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Open Internet Advisory Group Talks Broadband Labeling

The "Transparency" working group of the FCC's Open Internet Advisory Committee (OIAC) has recommended that ISPs provide broadband speed, service and price labeling, like nutritional labels on foods, on their websites as a way for consumers to get an "apples to apples" comparison of service provision.

Those labels would include a notation about data caps or usage-based pricing as well, and pricing would be a 36-month average that included all taxes and fees. The label would be voluntary, with no recommendation of an FCC enforcement mechanism.

The FCC was also advised that it would be helpful to provide a clearer definition of the "specialized services" -- including video and data services -- that are not covered by the FCC's Open Internet order.

Those and other issues were discussed Tuesday (July 9) at the latest OIAC meeting at the FCC in Washington, the committee's fifth meeting since it was first convened a year ago (July 20, 2012).

As part of the Open Internet order, the committee was created to monitor the impact of the rules and changes in the marketplace that might necessitate additions and tweaks to the order.

During a review of the working group labeling recommendation at Tuesday's meeting, one industry rep on the committee suggested that including the pricing information in the labels should be the subject of further debate, since it could be confusing given that prices change -- the recommendation was for a 36-month average price to take into account introductory offers that expire. He said there should be more discussion about whether pricing info could wind up confusing, rather than better informing, the consumer. Another member countered that since it was an online label, it could be updated easily.

Since the labels would be voluntary, one committee member suggested that without enforcement, it would be rough to police for accuracy since the label would provide an opportunity for ISPs to game the numbers to their advantage. It was pointed out that ISPs already offer some performance statements on their websites, and as with those, if they are not telling the truth there are already truth in advertising requirements that would cover that.