The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is putting forward a proposal that will force US internet companies to provide ‘nutrition labels’ with their services at the point of sale.
The new rules were announced alongside other pledges to expand internet access to rural areas of the US, where citizens only have access to poor broadband coverage at present.
The changes will affect millions of consumers, but businesses who’ve gone remote, and now rely on data-intensive tools such as web conferencing services for their livelihoods, will also welcome the modifications to the law.
What Will the Proposals Force ISPs to do?
The proposals suggest that at the point-of-sale, internet service providers should provide ‘nutrition labels’ on internet service products, both online and in-person.
These labels, which won't look dissimilar to one’s you might find on a cereal box if the FCC gets its way, will reveal the price, speed, data allowances, including activation and setup rates and later price hikes on their plans, as well as network practices like bandwidth throttling.
The proposals are part of the Biden Administration’s crackdown on sectors and industries that it believes are suffering due to a lack of competition.
“Arming consumers with better information will also promote greater innovation, more competition, and lower prices for broadband – wins for the entire broadband ecosystem” – Geoffrey Stark, FCC Commissioner.
Stark also said that the nutrition labels “will help households compare prices and service offerings, making it easier for them to find the right package and the best deal.”
Biden’s Competitive Crackdown
Providing this sort of information at the point of sale of broadband has been floated in the halls of government for some years now. As the Washington Post points out, the Obama-era FCC tried to instate it as a voluntary measure.
Last summer, Biden signed an executive order that required consumers to be given more choice and fairer deals when it comes to their broadband. The nutrition labels are one initiative that will seek to honor this directive.
The FCC has until November to iron out the intricacies of the legislation, such as deciding how prominent the labels have to be.
Now, the proposal has been included in Biden’s huge infrastructure bill, and the FCC has until November to iron out the intricacies of the legislation. For instance, will ISPs have to ensure you see the label before purchasing a product, or can it be hidden behind a link or on the back page of a tiny leaflet?
With many things still to decide, a ‘commenting process’ has begun, giving industry players the opportunity to have their say on the proposed changes.
Whilst encouraging, these changes will do little for those living in rural areas across the US, who struggle to get broadband at all, let alone a connection of any real quality. However, FCC has also put aside $1.2 billion to expand broadband access to rural areas across 32 states.
Will Nutrition Labels Save my Business Money?
Although likely to affect consumers more than companies, pandemic-era norms like working from home mean the new rules will have a major effect on businesses too.
The majority of organizations now have at least some staff working remotely, and rely not only on the quality of web conferencing services, but the internet connections of tens or even hundreds of staff members dotted across the US.
The US’s broadband carriers are far from the most popular corporate entities and, for a country that has a near-universal reliance on their services, it’s about time more consumer and small business protections like this were put in place.