FCC gets ball rolling on broadband ‘nutrition labels’

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to begin the process of implementing so-called ‘nutrition labels’ for broadband service, advancing an idea which was first floated more than five years ago.

The proposed labels would include a range of information, including pricing, speeds, data allowances and network management information. The idea is to make it easier for consumers to understand and compare service plans from different providers.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel likened the proposed labels to the common nutrition tables printed on grocery items, which she argued help “consumers make good choices.”

“I think the Federal Communications Commission needs to do the same with broadband,” she said in a statement. “We want to make it easier for consumers to compare their options and understand just what they’re signing up for…We want to end efforts to bury facts in the fine print and we want to stop unexpected costs and fees.”

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The label initiative was first launched by the FCC in 2015 as part of the Open Internet Order, but subsequently died when that measure was repealed late 2017. In the interim, though, the FCC approved a basic framework for the labels in 2016 which would have required operators to include a set of specific “broadband facts”.

As a first step in its renewed effort to make the labels a reality, the Commission is seeking public comment on a range of questions, including how consumers today evaluate broadband service plans; whether the content and format of the labels should be updated from the 2016 template; and whether the Commission should provide new guidance about where the labels must be displayed.

Comments are due within 30 days of the notice’s publication in the federal register, with replies due within 15 days after that.