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Global Media and Communications Watch The International Legal Blog for the Tech, Media and Telecoms Industry
Posted in Policy & Regulation, Telecoms & Broadband Alexander Maltas

The FCC’s Consumer Broadband Labels: An avenue for meeting the FCC’s Open Internet transparency requirements?

fcc-logo_light-blue-gradient-on-grayOn April 4, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in collaboration with the Consumer Financial Protraction Bureau, unveiled standardized consumer broadband labels that will list information about the price and performance of fixed and mobile broadband service. While the FCC will not require broadband providers to adopt the broadband labels, the FCC explained that the labels will provide a safe harbor for complying with the enhanced Open Internet transparency requirements that the FCC adopted in March 2015.  The consumer broadband labels could provide broadband providers with a convenient method of displaying their Open Internet disclosures.  However, broadband providers must ensure that their disclosures, including their network management, privacy, and other policies comply with the FCC’s Open Internet transparency requirements, and eventually, the FCC’s proposed new privacy rules.

Under the FCC’s Open Internet transparency requirements, mobile and fixed broadband providers must disclose the price for their service, other fees, data caps and allowances, network performance characteristics, and network management practices.  The FCC touted the broadband labels as a standardized way for broadband providers to comply with these disclosure requirements.  The FCC explained that the labels will officially operate as a safe harbor to comply with the FCC’s Open Internet transparency rule after the Office of Management and Budget gives final approval to that rule.  However, the FCC encouraged broadband providers to use the labels for disclosure to consumers at any time.

The FCC released two sample consumer broadband labels, one for fixed and one for mobile.  The labels closely mirror nutritional labels.  The labels include information on:

  • the monthly service plan charge, on and off contract;
  • data allowances;
  • other charges and terms, such as charges for additional data, one-time fees, taxes and other government fees, and early termination fees;
  • information on device compatibility for wireless networks;
  • performance metrics, including downstream and upstream speeds, latency, and packet loss;
  • network management practices;
  • privacy policies; and
  • FCC contact information for complaints and inquires.

For some of the disclosures listed above, the sample labels include links to the broadband provider’s policies.  These include links to the broadband provider’s network management, equipment rental, and privacy policies. The sample labels also include links to information on other pricing options and additional services that are available.

The FCC developed the consumer broadband labels through its Consumer Advisory Committee, which includes representatives from public interest and industry groups.  Public interest groups, for example Public Knowledge, applauded the announcement of consumer broadband labels as “important follow-through on the FCC’s principles of transparency in a straightforward format.”  Broadband industry groups largely expressed appreciation for the labels, but also touted the industry’s existing efforts to provide transparency.

The consumer broadband labels present an opportunity for broadband providers to present their Open Internet disclosures in a standardized format.  However, the labels have limited space for presenting detailed information on network management practices, among other service policies.  The onus remains on broadband providers to meet their disclosure requirements by providing additional information through links on the consumer broadband disclosure labels.