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Broadband Labeling Is Uncontroversial, But What of “Big Tech” Labeling?

Randy Sukow

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Broadband Label

The FCC unanimously adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (PDF) to require ISPs to set rules for point-of-sale labeling on broadband service. Congress in the November 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) directed the Commission to set labeling rules within a year. As it turned out, the FCC has had voluntary labeling guidelines in place since 2016. The new rules would be mandatory (PDF).

“Congress gave us the support we need to require this kind of simple, common labeling for all consumer broadband service, both wireless and wireline. With these broadband nutrition labels, we can compare service providers and plans and hold broadband providers to their promises,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said this morning during the this morning’s monthly agenda meeting.

IIJA requires ISPs to display information such as price, data rate and monthly data allowances for each broadband plan in a prominent place at the point of sale. The NPRM will seek comments on where precisely ISPs should display the labels and whether the FCC should update any of the wording from the 2016 guidelines.

All four of the current commissioners spoke in favor of labels for broadband ISPs. But Commissioner Brendan Carr called for also concentrating on a what he said is a greater source of consumer confusion – Google, Amazon and other internet edge providers or “Big Tech,” as he called them. He noted that in the last week, four state attorney generals filed suit against Google for failing to provide transparent information about its location tracking policies.

“The transparency rule that currently applies to broadband providers or even the nutrition label approach we propose here would be a good place to start when it comes to bringing much-needed and long overdue transparency to Big Tech,” Carr said. “This would ensure that all internet users from entrepreneurs to small businesses have the information they need to make informed choices.”

Update, Feb. 7: The FCC today published comment dates for the “Empowering Broadband Consumers Through Transparency” rulemaking. Initial comments are due March 9, and reply comments on March 24.

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