Confused about your home or mobile internet costs? Help is on the way

WASHINGTON—Consumers could easily compare prices for home and mobile broadband service under plans that received the initial green light from the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday.

The proposed new rule would require broadband providers such as AT&T Inc.

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and Comcast Corp.

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to show consumers standardized price data similar to stickers on new car windows and nutrition labels on packaged foods.

“We want to make it easier for consumers to compare their options and understand exactly what they’re signing up for,” FCC Chairman Jessica Rosenworcel said.

The FCC voted 4-0 to seek public comment on the proposed disclosure rule, with support from Republicans and Democrats. The proposal implements a congressional directive.

Brendan Carr, a Republican FCC commissioner, endorsed the effort to educate consumers, but cautioned the agency should be careful not to make the labels too complex.

“It’s important that we do this in a way that will promote clarity and not confusion,” Carr said.

The FCC is seeking comments on a proposal to require internet service providers to provide consumers with price and speed information, among other details.


Photo:

Karen E. Segrave for The Wall Street Journal

Under the proposal, internet service labels would include details on prices, data allowances, speeds and the difference between introductory and regular rates. They should be prominently displayed at the time of sale to consumers purchasing home broadband or mobile broadband packages.

The FCC is also asking for comment on the content of the labels as well as how the labels should be displayed, such as whether companies should display them prominently on their marketing websites or just provide a link. The FCC will seek public comment on the proposal before finalizing the rules in the coming months.

Consumer advocates say more information will help consumers fully understand the costs of different plans and compare companies’ offerings on an apples-to-apples basis.

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When companies market their plans, often “the highest price is the promotional rate — the fine print is the rate after the promotion expires,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy adviser at Consumer Reports, to the nonprofit. lucrative, which advocated for the labels. “A lot of consumers miss these fees in the fine print.”

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, said Thursday that the labels “will also foster greater innovation, more competition and lower prices for broadband – wins for the entire ecosystem of the broadband”.

Others wonder how much the labels will affect prices. Former FCC official Blair Levin said consumers who are motivated to shop can already do so. Levin, now an analyst at New Street Research, said switching costs, such as new hardware and connection fees, also act as a deterrent.

“Bottom Line: We don’t believe transparency will prove deflationary,” Levin said in a note to clients this week.

The FCC at the end of the Obama administration adopted a similar price disclosure label, although its display was voluntary and the idea drew objections from some industry players.

Labels could be cumbersome and lead to overly simplistic disclosures that “may not reflect the reality of how services are offered,” said NCTA, a cable industry group formerly known as National Cable. & Telecommunications Association, to the FCC in 2015.

The Trump administration has shelved comparison shopping plans, but Congress passed legislation last year directing the FCC to require the display of “broadband consumer labels” based on those described in Obama-era rule.

The NCTA said this week that its members are “committed to providing consumers with relevant broadband information” and that it looks forward to working with the FCC on their implementation.

FCC leadership also said it does not plan to directly regulate broadband prices, as many companies feared after President Biden took office.

Super-fast 5G speeds are there, but they’re not very useful on newer 5G smartphones. The WSJ’s Joanna Stern packed up an RV to see if the connection could power all her connected gadgets, including laptops, printers, Xboxes and doorbells with cameras. She explains the confusing world of 5G along the way. Photo illustration: Sharon Shi

Write to Ryan Tracy at [email protected]

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