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What are broadband stickers and are they useful?

What are broadband stickers and are they useful?

To help consumers better understand broadband choices, Congress has tasked the FCC with revamping its concept of broadband labeling, with the goal of providing more detailed information about competitive offerings from various providers.

This renewal mandate was passed as part of the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act (IIJA), and to understand what it means as well as what it seeks to achieve, one must first understand what broadband designations are, as well as their history. The FCC first came up with the concept of broadband labels in 2009, before creating templates for broadband providers to use in 2016. The idea is for providers to use these templates to share information such as the basic monthly cost of broadband, activation fees, and optional Monthly fees, discounts, and other details related to performance and reliability with consumers.

However, since 2016, the idea has been largely put on hold and not fully realized – until now, with the new mandate seeking to change that.

So, what has changed?

In short, the epidemic.

Last year, President Biden signed off on a bipartisan IIJA, investing $550 billion to improve the nation’s roads, bridges, water infrastructure, resilience and high-speed internet capacity. One of the provisions of the IIJA was for the FCC to create updated broadband labels that describe customers’ broadband products, along with regulations for ISPs about how these new labels should be displayed.

The deadline for this ruling was one year, which means the FCC will likely announce its decision as soon as November 15, 2022, barring some kind of delay.

“The pandemic has changed everything,” said Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Consortium. “Everyone has been forced to care about broadband, and that’s what has brought it to the top of lawmakers’ agendas and why we’re putting so much investment into infrastructure and laws like IIJA to connect every American.”

How will this effect affect consumers?

According to John Beh, professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, consumers want more information to make an informed decision. At least, that’s what a study by the CyLab Institute for Security and Privacy at Carnegie Mellon found.

Peha, a study co-author and former chief technical officer at the FCC, said, “There are a lot of people on both sides of this argument, who debate what consumers need, but no one has rigorously asked consumers in a way. So, we launched this study, which I think is the first study broad scope to discover what consumers really want.”

In summary, some of the findings include: consumers want more clarity regarding pricing, current broadband naming proposals seem confusing, and finally, consumers want more information about performance and reliability.

Of those three concepts, the latter is unique in that it’s not something the FCC has actually considered before, Peha said.

“Today’s ISPs will usually tell you what performance you can get under optimal conditions,” Peha said. “What consumers tell us they really want isn’t the best possible performance, but they want to know about typical performance, normal performance, and significantly lower-than-normal performance.”

As a result, the study used consumer feedback to create a new broadband label to compare with the 2016 FCC proposal.

Some of the main differences between the two are information about performance, reliability, and network management practices, which he said refer to ISPs throttling traffic to deliberately serve consumers less.

Other pluses include simplifying the numbers when it comes to the total cost of getting broadband. However, despite these findings, it appears that there is still opposition from some ISPs.

What’s Next?

According to industry experts, the FCC will have to decide how to balance the needs of consumers and ISPs.

“How do you get consumers what they need without asking for so much information that it becomes too complicated for service providers?” Bolton said. “The ISPs won’t want to put themselves in a corner, so they want to keep things as broad as possible.”

On the flip side, he added, “It’s important that consumers know what they’re getting.”

Another concern is how these new labels will take into account the diverse needs of consumers.

“The problem is that the information relevant to one user is not the same as that of another user,” Peha said. “For example, if you do a lot of video conferencing, you care about different things than if you play games online, or if you get a consumer discount and you get a student discount on your own hardware, you get a different price, so give everyone what they want, that’s It means there is a lot of information.”

Two ways to address this, he said, are that the FCC can make the information shared through the labels available to third parties or create layered labels that contain more information.

The first option would open the door for third parties to create personalized tools for individuals to navigate any shared data through new broadband labels.

For example, “some organizations like Consumer Reports or other publications can get the raw data and make something that contains all the information and then customize it by asking the person who is looking for specific information to answer certain questions,” she said.

Another option is to offer layered labels to show consumers the information they want based on what they’re looking for instead of just having a single label.

In the end, though, the FCC has the final say.



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