New rules aim to simplify the details of Internet service

Most people immediately recognize the nutrition labels on the package that let you know the calories, cholesterol, and fat content in processed foods and beverages.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hopes to bring similar transparency to people purchasing high-speed Internet access. The agency’s new rules will require Internet service providers (ISPs) across the country to display uniform broadband information inspired by the Food and Drug Administration’s nutrition fact labeling.

The goal is to allow consumers to compare. These rules, which go into effect in about six months for most suppliers, apply to both large and small businesses. They meet the requirements in Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act that President Biden signed in 2021.

The labels will apply to home internet and wireless broadband plans. The FCC has adopted a label that requires the same information and format for its fixed and mobile broadband service offerings.

And these labels will be available for broadband plans aimed at new customers. The FCC doesn’t require companies to create labels for plans that current customers use but new customers can’t buy, so trying to compare a plan you’ve had for a long time with a more recent offering may not be easy.

“The visual really helps in our opinion, especially for an older person because they’re so used to nutrition labels,” says Dawit Kahsai, director of government affairs at the AARP.

The AARP actively participated in the process leading to the FCC regulations. His comments have been cited more than 40 times.

What to expect from labels

a label detailing the facts about a broadband service

The Federal Communications Commission’s design for labeling broadband plans was inspired by nutrition labels.

FCC

The government has created a template for these broadband labels that providers are expected to follow:

• Company name and plan. At the top you will see the name of the Internet provider and the name of the plan because your ISP probably has more than one plan in your zip code. You will also see the type of broadband offered, landline or mobile.

Fixed broadband services are delivered to your home or single location using digital subscriber line (DSL) technology from your phone company, coaxial cables from your cable TV provider, or fiber optic cable from any utility. Mobile broadband, which includes products such as Internet hotspots, is device-based and available throughout a provider’s cellular coverage area, similar to smartphone services.

• Monthly prices. The label must state whether the price quoted is an introductory rate. In this case, the ISP must specify the terms: How long is the promotional period? What is the cost once it expires? If a contract is required, the company must provide a link to it.

• Additional fees and terms. These include any one-time fees when you sign up for a plan, as well as any early termination fees. Note that you will not see taxes in the numbers listed. Prices also vary by location.

• Discounts and bundles. ISPs can provide discounts and benefits. They may be related to the separate wireless service you subscribe to, or maybe the use of your modem, router, or other device. If those discounts are part of the deal, you’ll see some of the details in this section.