FCC Takes Wraps Off Broadband Transparency Labels

The FCC Monday unveiled its online broadband network management fees "nutrition" labels, which fixed and mobile ISPs can use to meet the transparency requirements of the FCC's network neutrality rules.

The labels must be available at point of sale, which means on the website or, if in a store, available for perusal on a tablet or computer or other device. They are not mandatory, but if done correctly will serve as a safe harbor signaling they are in compliance with the FCC's transparency rules.

The format mimics that of a nutrition label (see photo, which shows only a portion of the fixed broadband label). There are also more than a half dozen links, including a contact link to the FCC, a link to file a complaint with the FCC and links to privacy policies, details on network management, pricing policies in addition to the info on the label itself about everything from early termination fees and activiation fees to speed and performance, data limits, modem lease fees and additional network services.

“These labels provide consumers clarity about the broadband service they are purchasing, not only helping them to make more informed choices but also preventing surprises when the first bill arrives,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler who spoke at the unveiling Monday at the FCC. “Customers deserve to know the price they will actually pay for a service and to be fully aware of other components such as data limits and performance factors before they sign up for service.”

"If you are going to get competition, competition, competition, you need information, information, information," said Wheeler. He said it was important to get that transparency without intrusive regulation. He also pointed out that the labels were the result of unanimous agreement between consumer groups and industry.

Also on hand was Rich Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "I commend Chairman Wheeler and the FCC for bringing new transparency to the broadband market, which will help people understand what they are getting before they sign up," Cordray said.

The labels were unanimously recommended by the members of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC), whose membership includes cable and wireless ISPs as well as members of civil society. CAC chair Debra Berlyn said the disclosure is "far easier on the eyes" thanks to the CFPB efforts.

The labels won't become an official safe harbor until the Office of Management and Budget signs off on the additional info requirements of the FCC's enhanced transparency rules, but the FCC is endorsing them and ISPs can start using them anytime they want.

"It represents broad consensus among all CAC members, of which CTA is a member," said a Consumer Technology Association spokesperson.

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.