New Rules Aim to Simplify Internet Service Details

Most people instantly recognize the nutrition labels on packaging that let you know the calories, cholesterol and fat content in processed foods and beverages.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hopes to bring similar transparency to people shopping for high-speed internet access. New rules from the agency will require internet service providers (ISPs) across the country to display uniform broadband information inspired by the Food and Drug Administration’s Nutrition Facts labeling.

The goal is to let consumers compare. These rules, which will go into effect in about six months for most providers, apply to both large and small companies. They meet requirements in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that President Biden signed into law in 2021.

The labels will apply to at-home internet and wireless broadband plans. The FCC adopted one label requiring the same information and in the same format for both fixed and mobile broadband service offerings.

And these labels will be available for broadband plans aimed at new customers. The FCC is not requiring companies to create labels for plans that current customers use but new customers can’t buy, so trying to compare a plan that you’ve had for a long time with a newer offering may not be easy.

“The visual aspect of it really helps in our opinion, especially for an older person because they’re so accustomed to nutrition labels,” says Dawit Kahsai, AARP’s government affairs director.

AARP was an active participant in the process that resulted in the FCC’s regulations. His comments were cited more than 40 times.

What to expect from the labels

The Federal Communications Commission’s design for broadband plan labeling was inspired by nutrition labels.

FCC

The government created a template for these broadband labels that providers are required to follow:

• Name of company and plan. At the very top you’ll see the name of the internet provider and the name of the plan because your ISP likely has more than one plan in your zip code. You will also see the type of broadband being offered, either fixed or mobile.

Fixed broadband services are provided to your home or a single location using digital subscriber line (DSL) technology from your phone company, coaxial cable wires from your cable-TV provider or fiber-optic cable from any utility. Mobile broadband, which includes products such as internet hot spots, is device-based and available throughout a provider’s cellular coverage area, similar to smartphone services.

• Monthly pricing. The label must list whether the price shown is an introductory rate. If so, the ISP must spell out the terms: How long does the promotional period last? What is the cost once it expires? If a contract is required, the company must supply a link to it.

• Additional charges and terms. These include any one-time fees when you sign up for a plan as well as possible early termination fees. Keep in mind, you won’t see taxes in the numbers listed. Prices will also differ by location.

• Discounts and bundles. ISPs may provide discounts and perks. They may be attached to the separate wireless service you subscribe to or perhaps the use of your own modem, router or other gear. If such discounts are part of the deal, you’ll see some of the details in this section.

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