Broadband Labels Draw Eyeballs

Industry players and civil society groups weighed in Monday on the FCC's new broadband labels, with nary a discouraging word--it helps that the labels were vetted by an FCC committee comprising stakeholders--though with the definite signal from ISPs that they were already keeping their subs informed and that this was just added notice, not correcting a deficit.

“In today’s competitive marketplace, cable Internet providers are committed to providing consumers with accessible and relevant information about broadband services," said the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. "We appreciate this contribution by the Commission to offer consumers that same information in a format they are familiar with."

NCTA and other trade groups and companies have representatives on the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, which unanimously supported the new labels, unveiled at an FCC event Monday.

“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," said Scott Bergmann, VP of regulatory affairs for the group, which represents wireless ISPs. "The competitive nature of the wireless broadband market does more for consumers than regulation can hope to achieve.”

New America's Open Technology Group pointed out they had been calling for internet truth-in-labeling disclosures since 2009.

"The safe-harbor disclosure labels unveiled today will go a long way in helping to standardize descriptions of Internet service offerings," said Sarah Morris, senior counsel and director of Open Internet Policy. "Consumers now have an alternative to the jumble of formats, vague descriptive terms, and otherwise piecemeal disclosures that have been characteristic of the broadband marketplace. By centralizing disclosures in an easy-to-read, consistent format at the point of sale, consumers can compare “apples to apples” and make better informed decisions about the vital service that they will use every day. We applaud the FCC for taking this important step toward more robust broadband transparency."

“This action represents important follow-through on the FCC’s principles of transparency in a straightforward format," said Kate Forscey, associate counsel for government affairs, at Public Knowledge. "The familiar “nutritional label” easily allows the average consumer to understand exactly what they are getting from their broadband providers.

“The FCC today clarified for broadband providers its expectations regarding transparency disclosures to consumers about the broadband products for which they are paying. This should grant providers some of the certainty that they have been calling for in the ongoing conversation regarding ensuring Internet openness in the digital age. Public Knowledge applauds this example of the FCC's ongoing commitment to its historic Open Internet rules.”

As part of that Open Internet order, the FCC said it would come up with a disclosure format for enhanced transparency requirements that, if ISPs used it, would qualify as compliance with the new regs.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.