Broadband Service Labels

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As previously discussed on this site (see ICORE Blog entry dated 2/14/23), in November, 2022 the FCC released a Report and Order (Order) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing the provision of broadband labels by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) containing certain specific information regarding their internet service plans. The requirements of the Order are extensive and include the specific information that must be provided on the label as well as the availability of information regarding bundled plans, performance characteristics, network management practices, and the provision of information in different languages, among others.

The FNPRM sought comment on the need to further address comprehensive pricing information, bundled plans, performance characteristics, service reliability, cybersecurity, network management practices, privacy issues, and language requirements for the broadband label.

In recent weeks a good deal of activity has occurred regarding this issue. Relative to the Order, a Petition for Reconsideration (PFR) has been filed by CTIA (Cellular Telecommunications Industry Assn.) and a Joint Petition was filed by ACA Connects, CTIA, NCTA (The Internet and Television Assn.), NTCA (The Rural Broadband Assn.) and USTelecom. CTIA’s Petition seeks clarification or reconsideration of the Order’s label requirements to allow wireless carriers to provide additional information on the label to accurately describe their service offerings. The Joint Petition seeks clarification or reconsideration of the requirements to provide broadband labels at alternate sales channels and the appropriate treatment on the label of fees imposed by state and local governments. The positions set forth in these Petitions appear to be reasonable and should be viewed favorably by the Commission.

Several interested Parties filed comments to the FNPRM addressing the specific issues identified by the Commission for consideration. The following is a discussion of certain of the issues and the related comments that were filed:

* The Commission sought comment as to the benefit of including additional pricing information in the future beyond the Order’s requirement to display the unbundled retail price. The comments that we reviewed recommended that the Commission not require that bundled plan pricing, discounts, and other information (e.g., promotions) be required in future versions of the label. Commenters believe that requiring additional pricing information be added to the label will create customer confusion and therefore be  contrary to the goal of a consumer friendly label.

* In the Order, the Commission adopted a label requirement addressing performance measures based on speed and latency. The FNPRM sought comment on the benefit of requiring of additional performance metrics. The comments we reviewed recommended that the Commission not require additional performance metrics at this time based on the belief that doing so would overload consumers with information and would lead to customer confusion when making  comparison between service providers.

* The Order requires ISPs to display labels in the languages in which it markets its services. The FNPRM sought comment as to whether ISPs should be required to display labels in additional languages. Comments to the FNPRM indicated that this would be a costly burden to providers and should not be required.

* The Order requires that the broadband label provide a link to the ISP’s Network Management Practices. The FNPRM sought comment as to whether this requirement is sufficient. Similar to the discussion above regarding additional pricing information, the comments that we reviewed support the approach required by the Order that the label provide a link to the provider’s Network Management Practices.

The issues described above are a sampling of areas where the Commission sought input as to possible future changes to broadband label requirements established in the Order. NCTA’s comments to the FNPRM offer what we believe to be the most common sense approach to the many issues raised in the NPRM. NCTA points out that the rules for broadband labels promulgated in the Order require OMB approval which they estimate may not occur until June, 2023. From that point ISPs with more than 100,000 subscribers will have six months to comply with the new rules. Providers with 100,000 or fewer subscribers will have one year to implement the requirements of the Order. NCTA in its comments to the FNPRM urges the Commission to hold off on considering any changes to the labeling requirements established in the Order until those changes can be fully implemented and enough time has past to allow for an informed decision as to whether further changes are actually necessary. We agree with NCTA that the Commission should adopt a wait and see approach regarding further changes to the Order’s not yet implemented broadband label rules.

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