ISPs Must Provide Broadband Labels for Consumers

It’s only April, but it has already been a bad year for ISPs.  Yesterday, the FCC voted to reinstate the Net Neutrality rules, including reclassifying broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service.  For now, all ISPs will be treated as public utilities like electric companies.  It won’t stand for long, but for now, Title II is the law of the land.

With all the attention around Net Neutrality, an area that has received much less publicity are ISP broadband labels that, as of April 10, 2024, are now a requirement for all stand-alone broadband providers of 100, 000+ lines.  Smaller ISPs will be required to produce similar labels on October 10, 2024.

Consumer-friendly labels are required at any point of sale, including online and in stores for large ISPs.  They must be displayed in close proximity to an ISP’s associated plan’s advertisement.

The labels must contain the following information:

  • Broadband prices 
  • Introductory rate details
  • Data allowances
  • Broadband speeds
  • Links to learn more about:
  1. Available discounts or service bundles
  2. Network management practices
  3. Privacy policies

The road that led to these labels began in 2015, when the FCC sought recommendations for consumer-centric labels from its Consumer Advisory Committee, a panel of consumer group and industry representatives. The Committee provided recommendations to the FCC in 2016.

In 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order promoting competition in the American economy.  The Order highlighted the so-called “hidden fees” facing consumers purchasing broadband service.  This was followed in November 2021, when Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which directed the FCC to require consumer-friendly labels with information about broadband services.

Finally, in 2022, the FCC adopted rules in Docket 22-2 requiring broadband providers to display at the point-of-sale labels displaying key information consumers want, including prices, speeds, fees, data allowances, and other critical information.

Looking ahead, on October 10, 2024, providers will be required to make the labels machine-readable so third parties can more easily collect and aggregate data to create comparison-shopping tools for consumers.

In the meantime, in a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in Docket 22-2, the Commission is considering even more broadband label requirements. 

These include:

  • Adopting specific criteria, based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) standards.  For example, the WCAG suggests providing text alternatives for any non-text content so that it can be changed into other forms people need, such as large print, Braille, speech, symbols, or simpler language.  It also suggests providing definitions of words or phrases used in an unusual or restricted way, including idioms and jargon and abbreviations.
  • Determining if ISPs should be required to make the label available in languages other than those in which they market their services, such as Spanish, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tagalog.
  • Whether providers should be required to display discounts such as paperless billing, bundling broadband with other services and other variables (such as location-specific taxes) in future versions of the label.  Should such a requirement include all potential discounts and other price variables, or just those that reflect most consumer purchases or providers’ most popular packages?
  • Whether there are more appropriate ways to measure speed and latency other than “typical” Mbps for purposes of the label disclosure, such as average or peak speed and latency.  Should providers be required to add another speed metric to the label in addition to typical speed?

Should providers be required to disclose how reliable their services are?

It is clear from the Further Notice that many new label requirements are coming.  This FCC will not be satisfied until every broadband service is micromanaged!