Editorial: Broadband Nutrition

The FCC last week unveiled a format for the information—about broadband speeds, pricing and more—it says ISPs should be providing to their customers. Whether the agency should be using its Title II muscle to enhance transparency requirements is another issue, which the courts should be deciding any time now.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said last week that to ensure “competition, competition, competition”—his regulatory mantra—there must be “information, information, information.” That info will come in the form of nutrition label-like disclosures at the point of purchase, on ISPs’ sites and in retail locations.

The disclosures look a little too much like those black-and-white listings on cans of succotash for our taste. With all the graphic whiz-banging going on out there, the graphic leaves something to be desired. But aesthetics aside, making it easier to know exactly what speeds and service customers are getting and how that is being managed isn’t a bad thing. The labels were unanimously approved by the FCC’s consumer advisory committee, whose members include cable and telco ISPs. The labels aren’t mandatory (though the disclosures in some form are), but the form becomes essentially proof of compliance.

The courts could conceivably throw a monkey wrench into the FCC’s plans with a ruling against the Open Internet order. But the last time around, transparency was the only rule of the 2010 order that escaped a court’s remand.

Now, if only there were a label on the FCC website telling us at what speed and by what methods the agency delivered its regulatory services. That would be transparency.