FCC Will Force Internet Providers to Create Broadband ‘Nutrition Labels’ to Prevent Surprise Costs

FCC Will Force Internet Providers to Create Broadband ‘Nutrition Labels’ to Prevent Surprise Costs
Illustration: Budrul Chukrut/SOPA Images/LightRocket, Getty Images

Aiming to put an end to unexpected costs and fees for broadband, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a proposal requiring providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, to create “nutrition labels” to help consumers navigate the industry’s maze of prices and offers.

Like food labels at the grocery store, the broadband nutrition labels will provide customers with key information about home and mobile internet plans, including introductory rates, speeds, and data allowances, at the point-of-purchase, the FCC explained in a news release. Nonetheless, the final version of the labels won’t be known for at least a few months because the agency is required to consider input from the public.

The FCC’s broadband nutrition labels aren’t new. It approved voluntary labels back in 2016, although that effort “never got that far,” according to FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. This time is different, she added, because these labels are mandatory.

“With these broadband nutrition labels we can compare service providers and plans, hold broadband providers to their promises, and foster more competition — which means better service and better prices,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.

FCC commissioner Brendan Carr echoed Rosenworcel’s message on empowering consumers but pointed out that the agency should ensure the new labels provide clarity, not confusion.

The 2016 label. (Screenshot: FCC)The 2016 label. (Screenshot: FCC)

He has a point. While the intention behind the broadband nutrition labels aims to solve a problem and help customers understand the true cost of the services they buy, I think about my elderly and tech-averse mum, who most certainly doesn’t know what most of the words in the 2016 label mean. I also think it could be confusing to include references to so many charges — such as “monthly charge” and “other charges — and not include a “total charge.”

Here’s to hoping the final version of the labels is a bit easier to understand. The FCC must finalise its rules for the labels by Nov. 15 of this year.