Tech

Broadband 'nutrition labels' kick in, revealing hidden fees for ISPs

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New FCC “broadband nutrition labels” go into effect beginning today, forcing ISPs to disclose all of the normally hidden costs and speeds.

And yes, the term “nutrition label” is accurate — they’re modeled after the list of ingredients you might find on a box of cereal, say, along with a breakdown of what you’re being charged. Those labels must be posted on the websites of ISPs as well as in retail stores. The labels also cover both wired and wireless broadband plans, so you should see them, for example, in a Verizon store.

The idea is to allow consumers to know just exactly what they’ll receive when they sign up for broadband service — and what they’ll be charged for, too. The new labels won’t eliminate the fees that are sometimes hidden in a customer’s bill — they’ll just make them more obvious so that you can factor all of that in when evaluating broadband providers.

“The labels must disclose important information about broadband prices, introductory rates, data allowances, and broadband speeds,” the FCC says. “They also include links to information about network management practices and privacy policies.”

The process dates back to 2021, when Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which ordered the FCC to begin work crafting consumer-friendly broadband labels. In 2022, the FCC began actually creating those rules.

The labels themselves will look like this example, provided by the FCC:

FCC

Some ISPs are exempt, specifically smaller ISPs with less than 100,000 subscribers. But by October, they’ll be required to comply, too.

It’s unclear what will happen if an ISP does not comply with the new federal regulations. I tried signing up for new service with Comcast Xfinity, and couldn’t find the new breakdown. I also tried Spectrum’s ISP service in North Carolina, and didn’t see the new labels either. (The service timed out as it was showing a signup page.)

In October, the ISPs will also be required to make the broadband “nutrition labels” machine-readable — so that not only will you be able to see an accurate, detailed breakdown of the ISP’s services, but automated tools will as well. Unfortunately, the new labels don’t do anything to help the de facto monopolies that many broadband ISPs have, but at least you’ll know how much it will cost you.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats. He has formerly written for PCMag, BYTE, Slashdot, eWEEK, and ReadWrite.

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