A wide-ranging executive order released by the Biden administration on June 9 is seeking to revive an Obama-era push for more public disclosure of broadband service performance and contract terms – an effort that fell by the wayside during the Trump administration.
The order “encourages” the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to carry the flag on the broadband service disclosure effort, arguing that a lack of price and service performance transparency makes it difficult for consumers to comparison shop for service.
If the order’s language on the broadband disclosure item seems a bit toothless compared to the tone of other White House executive orders including this year’s Cybersecurity Executive Order, that’s no accident. The FCC is an independent agency whose leadership is nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate but operates with autonomy.
Today’s order points to an example of what a “Broadband Nutrition Label” might look like – including basic disclosure for service pricing, data limits, termination fees, privacy policies, and speed performance. That last category would break out download and upload speeds, latency, and packet-loss rates.
Broadband disclosure requirements have some traction in Congress, with Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., filing the Broadband Consumer Transparency Act in March that would accomplish much the same purpose encouraged in today’s White House order. The bill awaits action in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Another big wildcard on the broadband horizon is the $65 billion for broadband service expansion in the United States contained in the compromise infrastructure agreement reached last month by the White House and a bipartisan group of senators. Beyond a promise by the White House that the funding would connect every American to broadband service, details of that provision are scant. The broadband provisions in today’s executive order may be a preview of what’s to come when legislation is written for the compromise infrastructure deal.
Finally, the definition of “broadband” service has also been a moving target for many years, as service speeds ramp up to meet the practical requirements of internet content. The current FCC definition of broadband is an always-on connection with 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps upload speed, and some broadband interest groups believe that definition is outdated.
Just this week, the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that the FCC has not updated its broadband service speed benchmarks in six years, and recommended that the agency consider doing so – especially to determine “whether the current definition of broadband really meets the needs of small businesses.”
In addition to requirements for greater disclosure of broadband performance and contract terms, the White House executive order issued today also encourages the FCC to prevent internet service providers from “making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices,” limit “excessive” early termination fees, and restore net neutrality rules to their status during the Obama administration.