Internet service providers will soon have to publish “nutrition labels” that prominently display the actual costs of their services, breaking down hidden fees, data caps, speed promises, and information about when discounts expire, the Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday. The labels will make it far easier to comparison shop in a market where real prices are often shrouded behind hidden fees and confusing bills.
The FCC mandated label is meant to deliver pricing clear pricing information, including additional fees (such as device rental charges), when promotional discounts will expire, details about limits and data caps, and information about expected speed and performance. ISPs will be forced to display the label right next to the advertised service offerings, not buried in a link to another page. The broadband labels will also be machine readable, so researchers, regulators and consumer advocates can easily collect information and track prices across the country.
“Our rules will require that broadband nutrition labels are fully displayed when a consumer is making a purchasing decision,” FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. “That means consumers will have simple, easy-to-read facts about price, speed, data allowances, and other aspects of high-speed internet service up front.”
The new rules came the same day as a landmark study of 22,00 internet bills organized by Consumer Reports, which uncovered a number of techniques ISPs use to jack up prices, including surprise junk fees fees, misleading promises about internet speeds, a lack of competition, and incomprehensible bills.
“The broadband label is a key tool for clearing up ISP bills that are too often foggy and confusing for a variety of reasons,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports, in a press release. “We applaud the FCC for taking the first step to require ISPs to display pricing information with an easy to read broadband label.”
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There are a number of steps involved before your ISPs will be required to display the labels. After the new rules are reviewed by the FCC’s Office of Management and Budget and published to the federal register, ISPs will have six months to a year to comply with the regulation, depending on the size of the company.
The problems facing broadband customers (i.e. the majority of American households) have multiplied in recent years. During ex-president Donald Trump’s administration, the FCC gave a gift to the broadband industry by reclassifying internet service as an “information service,” which it has little authority to regulate, leaving providers with almost no regulatory scrutiny. Now, a less business-friendly FCC is making big strides towards regaining control, and tipping the scales back in favor of consumers.
Nutrition labels are and growing trend in the tech industry, an arena where business practices are easier to hide thanks to the complexity of modern technology. Apple and Google recently released nutrition labels for their app stores, requiring developers to publish details about apps’ privacy and security practices.