Are you often frustrated by the lack of transparency regarding available broadband services in your area? Well, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has heard your complaints and is taking steps to provide consumers with a wealth of information about internet service providers (ISPs) before you take the plunge with a contract.
This week, the FCC unveiled easy-to-understand labels called "Broadband Facts," which are similar in concept to nutrition labels found on packaged foods in U.S. grocery stores. Customers can view pertinent details about broadband services, including service pricing, overage fees, data throttling limits, etc.
The FCC mandates that these labels be placed "in close proximity to an associated plan advertisement" to ensure maximum visibility. In addition, the full label must be on full display, and ISPs won't be able to get away with simply placing a link on its website that the customer must click to read the full details.
Other essential details arising from this new initiative include making the data available to third parties so that consumers can make more informed decisions while comparison shopping. The broadband plan labels must also be accessible from a customer's account portal when logging in online. Given that the FCC states that the labels be present at the point of sale, we'd imagine that they will be prominently displayed at brick-and-mortar locations for ISPs like Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon, for example.
Taking a closer look at the label, there are sections on the monthly rate for the plan and whether it represents special promotional pricing that will expire after a set number of months/years. There are also provisions to describe any activation fees, one-time or monthly equipment fees, the associated early termination fee (if any) and the amount of government taxes that will be applied to each monthly bill.
ISPs usually love to tout their download speeds in their advertising and then place their upload speeds in small print. They do this because cable providers often offer upload speeds that are much lower than the downloads. For example, my current cable internet plan offers 500 Mbps downloads, but upload speeds are capped at 25 Mbps. Thanks to the FCC, download and upload speeds must now be displayed along with "typical" latency on the Broadbands Facts label. In addition, true unlimited data is becoming a rarity with U.S. home broadband plans, so there's also a section that details how much data you're allotted per month (in gigabytes) and how much you'll be charged per gigabyte for going past that limit.
"Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings," said FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. "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. Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front."
Overall, this seems like a long overdue change to help consumers make more informed decisions when comparing and selecting a new broadband service -- even if the label looks a bit cheesy. Well, that is if you even have the option to pick from more than one broadband provider in your area. Most Americans only have access to one fixed-line broadband provider, although wireless options from ISPs like Verizon and T-Mobile are also starting to expand their reach across the U.S. However, even those services have issues of their own concerning service reliability.
Consumer Reports and The Verge recently examined over 22,000 U.S. broadband bills submitted by readers. They found that most households spend between $65 to $75 per month on broadband service compared to an average of $40 in London and $31 in Paris. Frontier Communications, on average, had the lowest monthly bill at $53, while Viasat had the highest at $117.