Raise your hand if you’ve been here before: you paid for internet service that isn’t as fast as it’s supposed to be or costs more than the internet service provider (ISP) advertised.
I guess everyone reading this has their hands up, because ISPs aren’t usually much fun to deal with. In this age of remote working, home internet service has never been more important, but it can often seem impossible to know exactly what you’re getting when you hand over a bunch of cash to get a signal pumped in your house. Of course, the ISP’s website said you’re paying for 300 Mbps download speeds, but speed test tells a totally different story. (Note: Mashable and Speedtest are both owned by the same parent company, Ziff Davis)
Good news: some of these problems will be a thing of the past thanks to a new FCC order delivered at the end of January. By November 2022, ISPs will be required to provide “nutrition labels” for their services that inform consumers the real story instead of the sanitized marketing version. But since internet services contain no calories or caffeine, it can be difficult to figure out exactly what these labels will tell you.
Let’s dig into it.
What do these labels fix for home internet service?
An example label from when the FCC first introduced these labels.
Typically, when you sign up to have this internet juice delivered to your home, your ISP of choice provides basic information about the service. This will give you a maximum theoretical download speed and a monthly data cap if there is one, but you won’t really know how the service works until it is connected and ready to work. The new FCC order will require providers to put together nutrition labels that may look a lot like what you see on the back of a cereal box, but with helpful information about their services instead.
It should be noted that the FCC first had this idea in April 2016, but at the time ISPs were not required to follow the rule. We all know how eager companies are to follow rules they don’t have to follow. Thanks to this new decision, however, they finally are.
Here’s what you might expect to find on those labels, based on a sample from the FCC along with the 2016 announcement. The FCC doesn’t have any updated samples yet, so some of they may be subject to change:
Monthly cost, both for a monthly plan and a long-term contract plan if required
Data limits, including overage charges
All hidden charges like activation and installation costs
Typical upload and download speeds, not just ideal top speeds
The last two items on this list are therefore, so crucial. It’s not that hard to work out the monthly cost based on the little information the providers give you at the point of sale, but $100 for the first month of service can easily double or even triple if one takes into account activation and installation costs. And anyone who regularly tests their internet speed knows that the maximum speed you pay for isn’t always what you get.
Want to help bridge the digital divide? Use the FCC Speed Test app.
In fact, depending on your location, carrier, and number of devices connected at once, you may never be so fast. One of my old apartments was supposed to get download speeds of 200 Mbps and often came in at less than 10% of that speed. Terrible.
Once ISPs start providing these labels, consumers will at least have a clearer picture of what’s on offer. Will it solve the myriad of other internet-related problems in the United States, such as uneven service coverage in rural areas? Not per se, although the FCC has committed $1.2 billion for rural broadband expansion in the same week. But soon, providers won’t be able to mislead customers by overcharging them for a service that isn’t as reliable as it claims.
A little transparency never hurt anyone.