Hidden fees and unexpected rate increases have become an expected part of Americans’ internet, cable, and phone bills, but the FCC just passed a rule that may make this much less common. Broadband providers will now have to “prominently” display a “nurture label” with all fees, catches and limits clearly stated for any plan you are considering.
“Our rules will require broadband nutrition labels to be fully displayed when a consumer makes a purchase decision. That means consumers will have simple, easy-to-read information about pricing, speed, data allotments and other aspects of high-speed Internet service up front,” said President Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement accompanying the decision. .
The labels resemble familiar food labels, and for good reason (beyond being “iconic”). With broadband providers, if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile and then slowly take it all the way to the Supreme Court if they think it’ll be more profitable that way.
Therefore, the labels must be completely standard, machine-readable and displayed “on the main purchase pages that suppliers have online. That means they can’t be buried in multiple clicks or reduced to a link or icon that a consumer might miss.” They should also be readily available on demand after someone signs up.
On the label, which you can see here, are all the vital statistics you need to know about your potential Internet connection:
- Monthly price and contract duration
- If that price will change after a certain period and what will change
- Full list of monthly and one-time fees, and early termination fee
- If the company participates in the Affordable Connectivity Program and link to verify if it qualifies
- “Typical” upload and download speeds, and latency
- Data limit and price beyond that limit
- Links to network management (eg, zero rating and content blocking) and privacy policies
With all of this posted clearly and in the same format between vendors, anyone can look at two of these labels and, like comparing two brands of cereal, decide which one is right for them. Not because of flashy advertising or misleading promotional pricing, but because they can see that the correct numbers are higher or lower than the competition.
The idea has been around for a while, but the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Law made it possible to take it to the finish line. It will be a while before they are required by law, though: An FCC spokesperson explained that the rules must first be reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget, after which they will be published in the federal register, and thereafter Broadband providers will now have six months to comply, or a year if they are small.
It’s a lot of red tape, to be sure, but ISPs are likely to jump into this early rather than see it through to the end. There has been a trend in that direction after many setbacks a decade or so ago.
The labels themselves may change slightly over time, just as nutrition labels have (eg, separating types of fats and sugars). More and better information will find a place on labels depending on what the FCC hears from customers and the industry:
“That’s why the agency is also starting a new rulemaking today that asks how to incorporate more price and discount data into the label itself, how to measure reliability of service, and how to make broadband nutrition labels even more accessible.” concluded.