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WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, more than 30 consumer advocates, broadband-data experts, and digital-rights groups sent a letter calling on the Federal Communications Commission to help consumers avoid “junk fees” by creating a broadband consumer label that is clear and visible on monthly internet bills. The label, which Congress directed the FCC to create as part of the 2021 infrastructure law, has been pending before the FCC since January. 

“Many ISPs are adept at hiding billing terms amid fine print and poor website design,” reads a letter sent to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from groups including Common Cause, Consumer Reports, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, Next Century Cities and Public Knowledge. “The label must not fall victim to these practices.”

Last week, President Biden touted the broadband label in a speech about the ways his administration is helping consumers avoid “junk fees” that raise costs and “hit the most vulnerable Americans the hardest.” To identify and deter these fees, consumers must see the label on their monthly bills, where they often first appear, according to Tuesday’s letter. Some lobbyists working for ISPs have asked the FCC to remove any requirement to display the label on the monthly bill.

The creation of a label is also supported by smaller ISPs such as Massachusetts' OpenCape, which signed Tuesday’s letter, that recognize that transparency is good for business. Smaller providers often have simpler pricing and fewer fees than monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and could use the label to attract new customers.

Many studies have outlined the ways in which internet service in the United States is too expensive and lacks transparency. Last year, Free Press published a study on the spiraling cost of broadband, finding internet bills were increasing at more than four times the inflation rate. A study by New America’s Open Technology Institute found that internet bills are rife with ancillary fees and complicated pricing schemes that obscure the total cost of service. Consumer Reports found that nearly six in 10 people across the country encountered unexpected or hidden telecom fees that caused them to exceed their household budgets.

Free Press Policy Director Joshua Stager said:

“All too often, broadband bills are opaque and misleading. The typical internet plan is inscrutable to the average person, filled with junk fees and confusing terms. Consumers who are already struggling with high inflation cannot make informed decisions in this environment. We need the FCC to clean up this mess.

“The broadband consumer label is a simple idea whose time has come: a clear, standardized disclosure of the basic costs and terms of every internet plan, similar to the Food and Drug Administration’s nutrition label. It's truth-in-billing for your internet provider.

“But this simple idea won’t work if consumers cannot find the label. Internet providers like AT&T and Comcast have a long history of hiding billing terms in the fine print, which is why the FCC should require these companies to clearly display the label on customers’ monthly bills. People deserve to know what they're paying for.”

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