Massachusetts Seeks Support Services In Preparation for Federal Infrastructure Funds

WASHINGTON, October 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission should require providers to display broadband-service labels on monthly service bills, and labels should be “machine-readable,” urged Free Press in a filing submitted Monday to the FCC.

Free Press, filing on behalf of an advocate group which included Consumer Reports, Next Century Cities, and Common Cause, argued that broadband-service labels would protect consumers from providers’ alleged deceptive business practices, which, the filing says, include “hiding key billing information amid poor website design.”

And without requiring inclusion of labels on monthly services bills – “the most visible place that consumers interact with their provider” – the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” Free Press wrote.

The filing says that machine-readable labels benefit researchers and consumers alike by facilitating quick research on and analysis of the broadband market.

Broadband-service labels display performance and billing information of internet plans like food labels display nutritional information. In 2016, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs, Wireline Competition, and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus approved label designs for fixed and mobile broadband, but the project stalled in 2017.

Early this year, however, the Commission issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to institute labels, in accordance with provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021.

“There are serious questions about whether a strong, effective label is achievable with a 2–2 Commission,” Joshua Stager, policy director for Free Press, told Broadband Breakfast Friday, referring to the FCC’s current Democrat–Republican split.

“Opposition to the label isn’t coming from every ISP – just the biggest ones,” Stager continued. “Smaller ISPs and new entrants like Starlink see the label as good for business because they have simpler pricing.”

Where industry groups part ways with the Free Press coalition

Last week, ACA Connects submitted a filing that opposed the machine-readability requirement. “Broadband labels are not amenable to machine-readability given that the information they contain may not be entirely reducible to a set of standard fields that are the same for all providers and offerings,” the trade group wrote, adding that smaller providers are likely to disproportionately burdened by the proposal.

In a September filing, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association argued against requiring providers to include labelson customers’ monthly bills. “First, there is no evidence that existing customers would benefit from the addition of label information to their monthly bill,” the association wrote. “To the contrary, there is a substantial likelihood that it will simply generate customer confusion.”

NCTA argued that certain fees are relevant only to specific customers – e.g., installation fees for new customers ­– and their inclusion on monthly bills would likely be misinterpreted. Requiring the inclusion of labels on monthly bills also places a substantial regulatory burden on providers, NCTA wrote.