FCC offers nutrition labels to internet service providers

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  • The FCC recently passed a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requiring Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to display user-friendly “nutrition labels” allowing consumers to compare broadband services;

  • The FCC proposes that these nutrition labels display information about price, speed, data allowances, and other relevant aspects of the broadband service being offered; and

  • Following its first hearing on these potential nutrition labels, the FCC will schedule a second hearing on April 7, 2022.

In November 2021, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act). This legislation directed the FCC to propose regulations that follow a 2016 public notice where the FCC – implementing “net neutrality” regulations adopted in the 2015 Open Internet Order – encouraged ISPs to use “nutrition label-like” labels to provide consumers with important and easily digestible information when selecting a broadband service provider.

In January 2022, the FCC adopted the NPRM, seeking comment on its authority to adopt the nutrition labels outlined in the 2016 public notice, and possibly go even further. The NPRM proposes to largely adopt the nutrition labels outlined in the 2016 public notice, but invites comments on several substantive aspects of the proposed nutrition labels, including content, formatting, display location , accessibility and transparency. A high-level overview of these relevant categories is presented below:

  • Contents. The proposed label content requirements differ slightly for fixed and mobile broadband services.

    • Fixed broadband service tags include pricing, data allowances, overage charges, equipment charges, other monthly charges, one-time charges, early termination charges, performance information such as speed and latency, and network management practices.

    • Mobile broadband service tags include pricing, data allowances, other services/features included, other monthly charges, one-time charges, service contract terms, early termination fees, “bring your own” information. own device” and performance information. Fixed and mobile broadband labels will include a link to the provider’s privacy policy and a link on how to file complaints and enquiries. The FCC is also seeking comment on whether the proposed nutrition labels meet the Infrastructure Act requirement that any label clearly state whether the proposed price is an introductory price and what the price will be at the end of the launch period.

  • Format. The FCC is proposing a nutrition label similar to the label described in the 2016 public notice, which follows the type of labels the United States Food and Drug Administration has created for food products and is generally consistent with the guidelines. issued by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Display location. The FCC is proposing to require ISPs to prominently display the labels in a manner easily accessible to consumers, including, at a minimum, prominently displaying the label on an ISP’s website when a consumer is looking for service options.

  • Accessibility. In the Open Internet Order, the FCC required ISPs wishing to rely on the “safe harbor” for broadband transparency rules (now largely repealed) to ensure that nutrition labels were accessible to people with disabilities. Specifically, the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Panel, which developed the nutrition labels described in the 2016 public advisory, found that the guidelines published by the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) offer “the best chance of ensuring that Disabled consumers will be able to access information about broadband services. The FCC invites comments on the appropriateness of these guidelines and the interplay between the existing broadband transparency rule and the proposed nutrition labels.

The FCC also sought comment on other related issues, including potential enforcement and enforcement mechanisms, and how nutrition labels can be used to facilitate equal broadband access. In a statement regarding the adoption of the NPRM, Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel pointed to the FCC’s ultimate goals in this proceeding, stating that the Commission “wants[s] to make it easier for consumers to compare their options and understand what they are getting into. We want to develop a consistent and simple way to provide accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other aspects of high-speed service.

The first public hearing took place on March 11. The FCC has announced a second public hearing regarding these nutrition labels that will take place on April 7. The second hearing will feature several panels made up of consumers, experts from non-profit organizations and academics focusing on how to make broadband labels useful, emphasizing the specific information whose consumers need.

Copyright © 2022, Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.National Law Review, Volume XII, Number 96

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