US broadband internet: Now with mandatory 'nutrition' labels

ISPs are just going to have to swallow it

The FCC's "nutrition labels" for broadband internet services are now a required part of doing business for American ISPs.

As of April 10, a rule passed in 2022 has taken effect requiring ISPs to display labels at the point of sale for internet service that include things like prices, service changes after an introductory period, speeds, feeds, data caps, and other information. The labels are required for both wired and wireless services, and must be displayed at physical stores and online. A link to the rule sheet isn't sufficient – it has to actually be visible.

"These 'nutrition label' disclosures 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 and prices for everyone," FCC chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

The rules only apply to the largest ISPs for now but by October 10 they will expand to include smaller regional providers with less than 100,000 customers as well.

Along with the October addition of smaller providers, additional rules come into effect that month requiring the labels to be machine-readable "to enable third parties to more easily collect and aggregate data for the purpose of creating comparison-shopping tools," the FCC said. 

Didn't we do this already?

If you're getting a sense of déjà vu over this broadband labeling thing, you're not losing your mind. 

The FCC launched a similar program back in 2016 that included very similar labels for broadband service under the agency's net neutrality authority, but the program had limited success.

ISPs weren't actually required to display the labels launched in 2016, the FCC said, but this time it's not optional. 

The rule requiring labeling of broadband services is also detached from net neutrality, as it was passed after the Trump-era FCC scrapped the regulations in 2017. Along with its second attempt at getting broadband labels to stick, the FCC is also set to vote later this month to reinstate net neutrality rules.

Internet service in the US is notoriously poor and pricy, and what qualifies as broadband has classically been quite low – just 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. The FCC has also been busy updating those standards, and recently upped the benchmark for what qualifies as broadband service in the US to 100 Mbps down and 20 Mbps up after years discussing the matter. 

The previous broadband benchmark was established in 2015, along with the open internet rules that established net neutrality and the previous ill-fated attempt at ISP labeling. ®

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