Broadband Nutrition Label Bill Revived

Broadband 'Nutrition' label

Minnesota Democrat Rep. Angie Craig has revived an effort to create broadband nutrition labels.

That comes as House and Senate Democrats plan to introduce legislation restoring the FCC's Open Internet Order net neutrality rules eliminated by the Republican FCC under chairman Ajit Pai.

Also Read: FCC to Unveil Broadband Consumer Labels

Craig, who is both a member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the Rural Broadband Task Force, has introduced the Broadband Consumer Transparency Act, which would mandate standardized ISP disclosures for information on price, ancillary fees and speeds. 

The so-called "broadband nutrition label" is modeled on the FDA's food labeling.

The bill would require ISPS to display that information "in a uniform and clear manner at the point of sale" to allow for comparison shopping where there is competition for internet access.

Craig said one of the reasons behind the bill is to address bill shock. 

"Roughly 7 in 10 U.S. adults surveyed by Consumer Reports who have used a cable, internet, or phone service provider in the past two years said they experienced unexpected or hidden fees."

The FCC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau teamed up on labels back in 2016 after the FCC adopted the open internet rules and accompanying transparency requirements, but the Pai FCC tabled the effort.

Craig also points out that a labeling bill passed the House in 202--but died in the Republican-controlled Senate, a Senate now in Democratic hands.

“As we work to ensure that every family in Minnesota has access to affordable, high-speed internet, we also must ensure that consumers have the information necessary to select the best services for their needs,” said Craig in unveiling the bill, which would require ISPs provide the following info to all consumers in that easy-to-read label:

"Price: Price points, including various charges like overage, equipment, early termination and administrative fees.

"Data Allowances: This is the carrier-defined plan limit after which consumers will face some consequence, such as additional charges or slowed data speeds.

"Performance: Broadband speed and other performance metrics."

New America's Open Technology Institute, which has been pushing for such a label for over a decade and worked with the FCC on its 2016 version (see graphic), was understandably pleased with the development.

"Internet service providers are notorious for keeping customers in the dark. Hidden fees, surprise bills, and dense contracts are familiar problems to anyone that has dealt with these companies," said Joshua Stager, deputy director of OTI. “Congresswoman Craig's bill cuts through this confusion by creating a ‘broadband nutrition label’ that clearly discloses the cost and terms of internet plans. This truth-in-billing legislation is urgently needed as millions of people rely on the internet to work, learn, and live during the pandemic. Congress should pass this legislation as soon as possible. People need to know what they are paying for.”

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.