Will ISPs begin labeling their internet services?

Apr 04, 2016, 3:05 PM EDT
Internet services at Hotel Club Mac. (Source: Mac Hotels/flickr)
Internet services at Hotel Club Mac. (Source: Mac Hotels/flickr)

On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled new label suggestions for broadband providers to accurately and fully convey to consumers what they will be getting from various internet services. The labels mimic nutrition labels, and will provide information about price and performance, including fees, add-on charges, speed, and reliability. 

With facts such as monthly charges, plan and data information, and one-time fees, the labels are meant to help consumers make informed decisions about purchasing broadband service. F.C.C. Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the labels will help prevent bill shock — something the F.C.C. wrestles with constantly as consumers complain that telcos are hiding fees and burying information about costs and service. 

But while nutrition labels are required for food, these broadband labels will not be required for ISPs. They are not mandatory, just recommended by the F.C.C. as a “safe harbor” to meet actual requirements: the F.C.C.’s Open Internet transparency rules. Those rules require ISPs to disclose information such as speed and fees; offering it up on one of these labels would simply be a clearer way to convey that information to consumers. 

The Open Internet transparency rules are part of the F.C.C.’s hotly contested net neutrality ruling last year that reclassified broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. ISPs fought the ruling then, and they’re fighting it now, with these newly-released labels adding more fuel to the fire. The CTIA, a group that represents broadband companies, argues that the labels are unnecessary, and that ISPs are already doing their part of providing full disclosure. Ars Technica quotes the CTIA:

"While we appreciate that these labels will serve as a ‘safe harbor’ under the Open Internet transparency rules, CTIA members already provide disclosure and transparency as part of the Consumer Code for Wireless Service. The competitive nature of the wireless broadband market does more for consumers than regulation can hope to achieve.”

Even though several big name telcos including Verizon and T-Mobile are on the F.C.C.’s Consumer Advisory Committee — the group that devised these labels — backlash against any sort of ruling from the F.C.C. is run of the mill now when it concerns ISPs. It remains to be seen if the broadband providers will adopt these labels. See a sample label here.

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