The findings of a new study from the CyLab Security and Privacy Institute at Carnegie Mellon University on the topic of the coming FCC broadband “nutrition” labels got a lot of attention last week, with the deadline for the FCC to reveal the labels fast approaching in November.
Impact: The FCC first unveiled a basic framework for broadband labels in 2016. But after the Open Internet Order was overturned in late 2017, the agency put them on the backburner. Now they’re back, part of a mandate in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that requires the FCC to come up with broadband nutrition labels (called that because they’re supposed to resemble the nutritional data included on food packaging) to provide consumers with more detailed information on broadband service options.
The FCC has taken public input on the labels since the start of the year and so far has received thousands of pages of suggestions, with broadband providers mostly preferring to stick to the details the FCC first outlined on its 2016 labels, although some trade groups have said the technical metrics included on the original labels are not things that traditionally factor into consumers’ service decisions.
As the FCC continues work on the new labels, CyLab surveyed 2,500 consumers on what they’d like to see included on the labels. Data suggest survey participants strongly support the broadband labels, ranking cost, speed, and reliability as the most important data. CyLab further found that consumers want more details about broadband performance rather than less, and specifically want to know if a provider’s service falls in the “normal” or “worse than normal” range rather than a specific download speed. Consumers would also like the labels to more clearly outline costs over a years-long timeframe, such as the length of a broadband contract that covers both promotional pricing and rate card pricing. At the same time, the results showed that some of the categories featured on the 2016 labels confused consumers, who didn’t have much context around terms like latency, packet loss, and network congestion.
Whether the FCC takes any of CyLab’s recommendations is unclear at this point, but the lab created a mock-up and submitted it for public input. The lab also recommended that the FCC establish a website that lets consumers enter their data and specifically how they use Internet service to receive results that compare options for them based on what they’re looking for in a broadband plan. Ultimately the survey found that consumers want more information, not less, included on the labels, but they also want the labels to be easy to understand. Unfortunately, those two requests may be at cross-purposes with each other, as adding more information to the labels could make them more complicated while keeping them simple could result in missing details consumers feel are necessary to help with the decision-making process.