To help consumers better understand their broadband Internet options, Congress directed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update the concept of broadband labels to provide more detailed information about competing offers from different providers.
This restructuring mandate was passed as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and to understand what it means and what it seeks to achieve, it is first necessary to understand what broadband labels are, as well as their history. The FCC first came up with the concept of broadband labels in 2009 before creating templates for broadband providers to use in 2016. The idea is that providers use these templates to share information such as the basic monthly cost of broadband, activation fees, optional data. monthly payments, discounts and other details related to performance and reliability with consumers.
However, since 2016, the idea has been largely shelved and never fully implemented — until now, a new mandate is trying to change that.
SO WHAT CHANGED?
In short, a pandemic.
Last year, President Biden signed the bipartisan IIJA, investing $550 billion in improving the nation’s roads, bridges, water infrastructure, resilience, and high-speed Internet access. One of the provisions of the IIJA was that the FCC create updated broadband labels describing broadband products to customers and rules for Internet service providers on how to display these new labels.
The deadline for this provision was one year, meaning the FCC could potentially announce its decision on November 15, 2022, barring some sort of delay.
“The pandemic has changed everything,” said Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. “Everyone has gotten to care about broadband, which has pushed it to the top of lawmakers’ agendas and why we’re investing so much in infrastructure and laws like IIJA to keep every American connected.”
HOW WILL THIS AFFECT CONSUMERS?
According to John Pehan, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, consumers want more information to make informed choices. At least, that’s what a study by Carnegie Mellon’s CyLab Security and Privacy Institute found.
Peha, co-author of the study and a former chief technologist at the FCC, said: “There are a lot of people on both sides of this debate debating what consumers need, but no one has really asked consumers. your way So we started this study, which I believe is the first large-scale study to find out what consumers really want.
In short, some of the findings include: consumers want more clarity on pricing, existing broadband label offerings seem confusing, and finally, consumers want more information about performance and reliability.
The last of the three concepts is unique because it’s not something the FCC has considered before, Peha said.
“Internet service providers today will usually tell you the performance you can get under optimal conditions,” Peha said. “What consumers really want from us is not the best possible performance, but what they want to know is typical performance, normal performance, and what’s below normal performance.”
As a result, the study used consumer feedback to create a new broadband label to compare with the FCC’s 2016 proposal.
Some of the key differences between the two are information about performance, reliability and network management practices, which Peha refers to as Internet service providers throttling traffic to deliberately degrade consumers’ service.
Other additions include simplifying the numbers when it comes to the total cost of getting broadband. However, despite these findings, there is still pushback from some ISPs.
According to industry experts, the FCC will have to decide how to balance the needs of consumers and Internet service providers.
“How do you get consumers what they need without requiring so much information that it makes it too difficult for service providers?” Bolton said. “Internet service providers don’t want to paint themselves into a corner, so they want to keep things as broad as possible.”
On the other hand, he added, “It’s just as important that consumers know what they’re getting.”
Another concern is how these new labels will take into account the different needs of consumers.
“The problem is that the information that belongs to one user is not the same as another user,” Peha said. “For example, if you do a lot of video conferencing, you care about different things than playing online games, or if you get a consumer discount and a student discount with your own equipment, you get a different price. give everyone what they want, that means a lot of information.”
A couple of ways to address this, Peha said, are for the FCC to make the information shared through the tags available to third parties, or to create layered tags with more information.
The first option would open the door for third parties to create customized tools for individuals to manage any information shared via the new broadband tags.
For example, “Some organizations like Consumer Reports or other publications can take the raw data and make something that includes all the data and then customize it by asking the specific information seeker to answer certain questions,” he said.
Another option is to offer layered tags to show consumers the information they want based on what they’re looking for instead of having just one tag.
Ultimately, the FCC has the final say.