from the this-is-why-we-can't-have-nice-things dept
The 2021 infrastructure bill did some very good things for broadband. Not only did it include a massive, $42 billion investment in broadband deployment and require better mapping, it demanded that the FCC impose a new “nutrition label for broadband,” requiring that ISPs be transparent about all of the weird restrictions, caps, fees, and limitations of modern broadband connections.
It’s 2023 and there’s still no label. And big broadband providers including Cox, AT&T, Comcast, and Charter are, unsurprisingly, trying to have the entire requirement killed. After whining for two years that it was too hard to comply with the requirement, industry trade groups and lobbying organizations have been petitioning to have the new rule killed entirely:
The US broadband industry is united in opposition to a requirement that Internet service providers list all of their monthly fees. Five lobby groups representing cable companies, fiber and DSL providers, and mobile operators have repeatedly urged the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate the requirement before new broadband labeling rules take effect.
To be clear, requiring that these regional monopolies be clear about pricing is pretty much the bare minimum when it comes to regulatory oversight. Big ISPs for decades have advertised one price, then saddled your bill with spurious below the line surcharges to hit you with a higher rate.
The FCC, lobotomized after decades of lobbying, routinely engages in regulatory theater when it comes to big telecom. As in they’ll implement some fairly tepid efforts to demand “transparency” by big monopolies, but they routinely lack the courage to actually take aim at the underlying monopoly power and lack of competition (lest it upset campaign contributors and domestic surveillance allies).
And even the transparency efforts are routinely undercooked. Activists and consumer groups were already annoyed at the Rosenworcel FCC’s implementation of these new rules, noting that the agency didn’t really require that ISPs put the label anywhere conspicuous, defeating the whole purpose, and wasn’t doing a good job illustrating real world speeds.
It’s not particularly clear where this goes from here. The Rosenworcel FCC has generally been fairly feckless when it comes to standing up to predatory monopolies. And the telecom industry just successfully scuttled the nomination of popular reformer Gigi Sohn, leaving the FCC without the voting majority needed to do much of anything “controversial” — even if it was actually inclined to do so.
A reformer like Sohn would have likely pushed the FCC staff to try a little harder. I’d imagine that once Sohn’s less “controversial” replacement (Anna Gomez) is confirmed by Congress there will be some kind of label eventually, but it’s far from clear that the actual implementation will hold much value once big ISPs get done watering it down.
And this is the “best case” scenario under feckless Democratic leadership. If Trump or DeSantis win the presidency, control of the FCC will revert to Republican “leadership,” which in telecom historically involves simply doing whatever Comcast and AT&T tell them to.