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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission released an order that mandates the creation of a standardized consumer label that clearly provides the cost and basic terms of internet-service plans. This disclosure, sometimes called a “broadband nutrition label,” resembles Food and Drug Administration product labeling. The FCC also issued a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to refine and strengthen the label in ways the initial order did not address. 

Consumer advocates have pushed for the creation of a broadband label since 2009. Congress directed the FCC to create such a label in last year’s infrastructure law. President Biden also endorsed the label in an executive order, touting it as a key way his administration is helping consumers avoid “junk fees.”

The precise location of the label has been one of the most contentious issues in the FCC’s 10-month docket. Free Press led a 31-member coalition that urged the agency to make the label clear and visible to customers on their monthly bills, where junk fees typically appear. Several ISP lobbyists urged the FCC to remove this requirement so they could display the label in harder-to-find places — part of a larger industry effort to weaken the label. Thursday’s FCC order does not require the label’s display on the monthly bill.

Free Press Policy Director Joshua Stager said:

“The FCC order is an important step toward cleaning up the inscrutable mess that is internet billing. Consumers are all too familiar with broadband bills that bury junk fees and service terms in the fine print. People deserve to know what they’re paying for, and this label will help.

“But this week’s action is just the start. The FCC acknowledged that the order is imperfect and will require strengthening in the future. In particular, the failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast, and a big loss for consumers. It’s unlikely this would have happened had the Senate already confirmed Gigi Sohn as the FCC’s fifth commissioner, thus breaking the agency’s unprecedented two-year deadlock.

“Although the broadband label is a straightforward idea, it took years to get to this point. Consumer advocates first proposed it in 2009, but the Trump administration abandoned the FCC’s first effort to create it in 2017. Congress revived the label last year after President Biden endorsed it in an executive order.

“While we appreciate the strong leadership from the White House and Capitol Hill, consumers shouldn’t need a presidential order, an act of Congress and a decade of advocacy just to get a little price transparency. In a healthy, competitive market, internet providers would be transparent and accountable for their prices or risk losing customers. That so many ISPs are not speaks to how dangerously anti-competitive and deregulated this market has become.

“We’re grateful to the FCC staff who worked diligently over the past year to develop a record on this issue, hold public hearings and get this initial order out by Congress’ deadline. We look forward to working with them on the further notice in the months to come. There’s still a lot of work to do to make the broadband nutrition label a success.”

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