Similar to food nutrition labels, the broadband “nutrition” labels must list broadband prices, introductory rates, data allowances, and broadband speeds, and must include links to information about the IPS’s network management practices, privacy policies, and the Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The FCC also adopted requirements for label format and display location.
The FCC’s Order implements Section 60504 of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Biden in 2021. In her statement regarding the new rules, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel explained, “[y]ou shouldn’t have to be a lawyer to know just what is in your internet service plan. Broadband nutrition labels are designed to make it simpler for consumers to know what they are getting, hold providers to their promises, and benefit from greater competition – which means better service for everyone.”
The new rules will take effect after the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) approves the new requirements and the notice is published in the Federal Register. Most providers will have six months from that date to comply with the new rules.
The FCC concurrently released a Further Notice Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) seeking comment on further steps the FCC should take to ensure consumers have adequate information to make broadband service purchasing decisions. The FCC seeks comment on issues related to more comprehensive pricing information, bundled plans, label accessibility, performance characteristics, service reliability, cybersecurity, network management and privacy issues, the availability of labels in multiple languages, and whether the labels should be interactive or otherwise formatted differently so the information contained in them is clearer and conveyed more effectively. Comments on the FNPRM will be due 30 days after the item is published in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 60 days after Federal Register publication.
The label requirement applies to plans for broadband internet access service, defined as a “mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all internet points… excluding dial-up internet service.”1 The definition also encompasses any service that the Commission finds to be providing a functional equivalent of the service defined in the rules, or that is used to evade the protections set forth in the rules. Enterprise service offerings and special access services are excluded from the label requirement as they are not considered “mass market retail services.” The requirement also does not apply to coffee shops, bookstores, airlines, private end-user networks such as libraries and universities, and other businesses that acquire broadband Internet access service from an ISP.
Broadband Consumer Label Content
The FCC’s rules require ISPs to display labels, similar to the one below, at the point of sale and on customer portals post-purchase. The label requirements are the same for fixed and mobile services.
The labels are required to disclose the following information.
Service Plan Name
Monthly Price: The base retail price for standalone broadband service offerings before any discounts are applied.
Introductory Rates: Information regarding whether the offered price is an introductory rate and the price the consumer is to pay following the introductory period.
Contract Plans: ISPs that offer a discount for consumers must display the length of that term.
Bundled Plans: Providers must display a label for their standalone broadband services but may provide a “click here” link to a section explaining bundle discounts.
Additional Monthly Charges and One-Time Fees: Any recurring monthly charges imposed on top of the base price, including the name and cost of each one-time fee assessed when the consumer signs up and any charges or reductions in service for any data used in excess of the amount included with the plan.
Taxes. Taxes will apply and may vary depending on location.
Additionally, ISPs are required to include on the labels links to their network management practices and privacy policies, disclose whether the provider participates in the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and link to the ACP webpage, and include a link to the glossary on the Commission’s website with information on broadband labels.
The Commission is also requiring ISPs to make the information included in the label available to the public in a machine-readable format, to develop unique identifiers for the various plans to be attached to the broadband label, and to be accessible to people with disabilities at all points of sale. Labels must be in English and available in any other languages in which the ISP markets its services in the U.S.
Point of Sale and Label Display Location
ISPs will be required to display the label at the “point of sale,” defined in terms of time and location. For “time,” point of sale is the moment a consumer begins to investigate and compare broadband service plans available to them at their location. For “location,” point of sale is both ISP websites and any other channels through which their service is sold, including ISP-owned retail locations, third-party-owned retail locations, and over the phone. Broadband labels do not need to be included on mass marketing channels or prior to customers specifying their service location. Labels must also be easily accessible by customers in their online account portals.
Grandfathered Plans and Archive
ISPs are not required to display labels for services used by current customers that are no longer available to new customers. ISPs are required to archive for two years labels that have been removed from websites or alternate sales channels and provide such label to the Commission or existing customers upon request. All labels required by the FCC’s instant Order must also be archived and provided to the Commission or current customers upon request.
Following publication in the Federal Register of notice that the Office of Management and Budget has completed review of the adopted rules, the new labeling requirements will take effect in six months for most providers, and one year for providers with 1,000,000 or fewer subscriber lines.
Future Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
Accessibility and Language
The FCC seeks comment as to whether specific criteria should be adopted based on the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and whether it should mandate specific WCAG suggestions for the broadband label. The Commission also seeks comment on whether the ISPs should be required to make the label available in languages other than those in which they market their services.
The FNPRM includes questions on whether the FCC should require providers to display pricing information on bundles and discounts and other variables (such as location-specific taxes) in future versions of the label.
Performance and Cybersecurity Information
The FCC seeks comment on whether there are more appropriate ways to measure speed and latency for purposes of the labeling disclosure, such as average or peak speed or latency. The Commission also seeks comment on whether adding a reliability measure to the label would improve the availability of such information to consumers and to what extent it would help a consumer in their purchasing decisions.
With regard to cybersecurity, the FCC seeks comment on whether ISPs should be required to disclose at the point of sale information about their cybersecurity practices, what standards or best practices should be used as a benchmark, and whether labels should warn consumers if “an ISP has left certain cyber risk unmitigated by reasonable security measures.” Lastly, the Commission seeks further comment on whether there are other service characteristics that should be displayed on the label.
Network Management and Privacy
The Commission also seeks comment on whether an interactive label with drop-down menus would be more beneficial to consumers as these menus can be used to house additional information. The FCC also asks about the use of surveys and focus groups for feedback on the labels and whether the FCC should create a style guide or template for the label.
The FCC asks whether it would be appropriate to maintain a public database of ISP broadband labels and how such a database would be maintained.
Fixed and mobile ISPs should start preparing for compliance with the FCC’s new broadband labeling rules. Industry stakeholders should also consider the issues raised in the FNPRM. The Hogan Lovells Communications, Internet, and Media group can assist clients with practical advice for navigating the compliance landscape and strategic guidance on next steps before the FCC.
Authored by Katy Milner, Mark Brennan, and Celine Dorsainvil.