New Consumer Reports study of 22,000 broadband bills demonstrates why the label is needed – and why the FCC should go further to make sure it works for consumers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today announced it has adopted a rule to require internet service providers (ISP) to provide a consumer broadband label that clearly presents pricing information. For years, Consumer Reports has worked with policymakers and regulators to develop a consumer broadband label to increase transparency in the marketplace. Last year, Congress mandated that the FCC develop and implement a standardized label with the goal of bringing greater price transparency and uniformity to the broadband market.
The FCC announcement comes on the same day that Consumer Reports released the findings of a massive study of more than 22,000 internet bills from consumers across the country. CR found that many bills are confusing and filled with fees, and pricing may vary widely, even among customers living in the same service area.
The FCC’s broadband label is a critical step for more transparency in the marketplace. A broadband label will clearly present pricing information, any additional fees (e.g. device rental fees), promotional discounts and length, and performance information (i.e., expected download and upload speeds). The Commission is to be commended for taking our and many other consumer advocates’ recommendation to require the actual label be presented next to ISPs’ advertised service offerings, and not hidden with a mere hyperlink. CR also applauds the FCC for making the labels machine-readable which is also something CR strongly recommended. Doing so will enable regulators, researchers, consumer advocates, and others to track and compare pricing across hundreds of ISPs, and potentially make it easier for consumers to compare the prices and service offerings of competitors in their communities.
However, today’s FCC ruling does not require the label to appear on every monthly broadband bill. If the label is displayed only on ISP websites and marketing materials—and not on monthly bills—CR and other consumer advocates fear that many existing customers will never see or derive any benefit from the label. CR hopes the FCC will revisit this ruling and require ISPs to provide a broadband label on every monthly bill. Nonetheless, the FCC adopted a version of CR’s proposal to archive labels on a moving forward basis so existing consumers could also benefit from the label if their plan is no longer offered.
Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel at CR, said, “Our new study makes it brutally clear how confusing our broadband bills are, and why this label is needed – and also why the FCC needs to go further to ensure people know what they’re paying for each and every month. The broadband label is a key tool for clearing up ISP bills that are too often foggy and confusing for a variety of reasons, including junk fees that are not government-mandated fees, but fictions created by some providers. We applaud the FCC for taking the first step to require ISPs to display pricing information with an easy to read broadband label.”
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