Some of the biggest internet service providers in the U.S. have come crawling on hands and knees to the Federal Communications Commission, signing a joint petition asking the agency to cut them some slack with new requirements that they report all their fees to consumers.
All commercial food in the U.S. is expected to contain a breakdown of ingredients and basic dietary facts. The FCC took a page from the Food and Drug Administration’s playbook when it issued new rules requiring internet service providers to break down their fees. These “nutrition labels” for ISP fees are supposed to include hidden fees such as rental charges and share limits on data. The broadband service providers are required to display these labels next to advertised services.
As Ars Technica first reported, Comcast wrote to the FCC earlier this month complaining that the order imposes “significant administrative burdens and unnecessary complexity.” The letter, signed by Comcast VP of regulatory affairs Jordan Goldstein, said that while “Comcast supports the Commission’s goal of providing consumers with clear, accurate, and easy-to-understand information.” it complained that the company is burdened by the need to itemize and share all the various government-imposed fees on their labels.
He added that extra fee bloat would require “a separate label” and that the company would need to create 251 labels to comply with the new rules. The number of new notices Comcast claims it would have to generate due to changes in state and local fees every year was redacted.
In addition, Comcast and its ISP fellows complained about the “significant undertaking” of the “alternate sales channels” requirement that the companies share when and how they pointed consumers toward these labels. The number of store visits as well as the number of records it would need to maintain were redacted from the letter.
In response to an inquiry from Gizmodo, Comcast VP of Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice provided Gizmodo with similar filings from Verizon and AT&T. The latter estimated it would need to produce 570 labels while Verizon claimed it would need to do “well over 500″ for its offerings.
“And that is the best case scenario if they don’t have to make separate labels for every different geographic political unit for different fees,” Fitzmaurice said, also mentioning Comcast has well over 500 stores that would need to comply with the rules.
The letter was part of a petition jointly filed between Comcast and other ISPs to reduce the burdens on their time and money. An FCC spokesperson told Gizmodo in an email “The FCC is moving forward to make these labels a reality for consumers. That said, as we often do in such proceedings, we review petitions to reconsider our rules and review all comments filed during those proceedings. As for the specifics of this filing, we do not comment directly on such filings but rather account for them as we consider next steps.”
Goldstein wrote that the government should grant their petition “to avoid the unnecessarily onerous burden associated with itemizing non-mandatory passthrough government fees.”
Comcast is the largest ISP in the U.S. and the second largest broadcasting and cable TV giant behind AT&T. Though most customers won’t actually see Comcast appear on their bills, as it owns Xfinity, which has a virtual monopoly over many different parts of the country. A Consumer Reports study from last year found that of the 500 ISPs from all over the U.S. and its territories, all contained arbitrary price differences and hidden fees. The study also concluded that these services rarely matched the download speeds that were advertised.
And even with that backend, Comcast said that it would simply take too many employees and too much manpower to create, deploy, and routinely update these labels. The full number of estimated employees is redacted from the letter, but Goldstein wrote that itemizing government fees and disclosing where else people can buy the services just takes up too much damn room and time.
Alongside new proposed hack disclosure rules, the broadband nutrition labels requirement was one of the few actual regulations dropped on the broadband field since former FCC Chairman and ISP stooge Ajit Pai vacated his chair at the end of 2020. In March, President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the agency Gigi Sohn withdrew her nomination after years of stonewalling from Republicans in Congress. Sohn blamed the “legions of cable and media industry lobbyists” who worked to discredit her.
Update 6/14/23 at 5:16 p.m. ET: This post was updated to include a comment from an FCC spokesperson.