Look for the Broadband Label

Washington — Cable operators and wireless Internet- service providers can start using new broadband transparency forms whenever they like, the Federal Communications Commission said in unveiling the “nutrition label”-like point-of-purchase customer notifications.

The labels don’t actually become official until the Government Accountability Office signs off on them, but they are a voluntary mechanism to comply with enhanced transparency rules on the books via the FCC’s Open Internet order.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler billed them as necessary information sources for consumers, though ISPs suggested they were an added tool in the toolkit already being used to let customers know about their service.

The labels, meant to go on ISP websites or to be made available on tablets or other devices in a storefront, were created with the help of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In fact, the bureau’s director said it suggested Internet service labels five years ago, but nothing came of it.

They are not mandatory, but if they contain the requisite information, they will serve as a safe harbor signaling compliance with the FCC’s transparency rules.

The form also has more than a half dozen links to sites, including ones for filing a complaint with the FCC, finding privacy policies and learning details on network management, fees, speed, data limits 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,” Wheeler said during the April 4 unveiling 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,” Wheeler added. The labels were unanimously recommended by the members of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee, whose membership includes cable and wireless ISPs as well as members of civil society.

Again, ISPs suggested the labels may be helpful, but are not filling some large void.

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

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.