FCC Finally Tells ISPs to Clearly List Speeds, Costs at Point of Sale

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Internet service providers tend to play it fast and loose when describing their speeds and pricing, which can make it hard to get all the facts before you sign up. The practice of obscuring important information could end thanks to a new FCC directive, which instructs companies to use a “broadband facts” label similar to the nutrition facts you see on food. That should make it much harder for ISPs to cram unexpected fees into your bill.

It’s common practice for ISPs to describe their services in grandiose marketing terms, promoting the most impressive metrics like download speed while glossing over data caps, administrative fees, promotional rates, and slow upload speeds (looking at you, Comcast). The broadband labels will include speeds, data caps, pricing, promotional terms, and an itemized price. This will help consumers easily compare different plans from the same or different ISPs. And because the rules will apply to both fixed and wireless broadband, you’ll get the same information for traditional cable and fiber internet plans, as well as newer 5G wireless and satellite connections.

For the most part, the FCC is not forcing ISPs to make new information available — you can find out all the specifics if you know where to look. However, ISPs don’t make it easy, often burying these important disclosures deep in the terms and conditions or support pages. “For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products. We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services,” says FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel.

An example of the broadband labels you’ll soon see when signing up for service.

ISPs will have to display the labels at the point of sale, ensuring consumers can easily access this information before signing up for service. The labels have to be presented near the corresponding plan, and they are not allowed to hide them behind multiple clicks. Even after you sign up, the FCC will require ISPs to make the info labels available in your account portal. The standardized layout will also make the content machine-readable, allowing third parties to create tools that scrape the disclosures for easier comparison.

The labels aren’t going to start appearing immediately — the FCC still has to do some regulatory legwork to get the rules in place. Once that’s done, it will announce an effective date for ISPs to comply with the new labeling requirement.

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