Hidden fees that show up on internet bills after customers sign up for service have long been a source of frustration for Internet users.
Because advertising costs often do not reflect the full cost of service, the Federal Communications Commission in 2015 forced ISPs to be more transparent with customers about hidden costs and the consequences of past data caps. The new requirements are part of the net neutrality rules—so they will be removed when the FCC votes to repeal the rules next week.
While FCC Chairman Ajit Pai plans to keep some of the Commission’s existing disclosure rules and impose some new disclosure requirements, ISPs won’t have to tell consumers exactly what everything will be when they register for work.
The rules have increased in 2015
There have been two main versions of the FCC’s transparency requirements: one created in 2010 with the first net neutrality rules, and an expanded version created in 2015. Both sets of transparency rules survive domestic challenges. lawsuit from the broadcasting company.
Them 2010 question at ISPs disclose pricing, including “monthly fees, usage-based fees, and fees for early termination or additional network services.”
A somewhat vague claim would survive Pai’s collective misrepresentation. But Pai is proposing to remove the enhanced disclosure requirements that are already in place since 2015.
Here are the disclosures that ISPs currently have to make—but won’t have to make after the repeal:
- Cost— full monthly service charge. Any promotional rates should be clearly noted as such, specifying the duration of the promotion and the full monthly service charge the customer will receive after the end of the promotional period.
- Other charges-all additional one-time and/or recurring fees and/or additional fees the customer may incur either to initiate, maintain, or discontinue service, including the name, description, and cost of each additional fee. These may include modem rental fees, installation fees, service fees, and early termination fees, among others.
- Data caps and allowances– any data caps or allowances that are part of the plan that the customer is purchasing, and results that exceed the cap or allowance (for instance, extra money, loss of work for the rest of the child’s bills).
of Pai proposed net neutrality repeal said those requirements and others received in 2015 were too burdensome for ISPs.
“(W) suspend the transparency law as established in (2010) Open Online Orderwith some changes, and elimination of additional reporting obligations of (2015) Title II Order“Pai’s counsel said. “We found that many of those additional traffic agreements increased the burdens imposed on ISPs without providing countervailing benefits to consumers or the Commission.”
The FCC is also making it harder for consumers to find ISPs’ shows. Under the 2010 and 2015 laws, disclosures have to be made on supplier websites and at the point of sale so that consumers know what they are getting into before they buy a service.
But Pai’s proposal says that ISPs should be able to make disclosures in the “least burdensome” way. Going forward, here’s how the FCC will require disclosures to be made:
ISPs are given two options for disclosure. First, they can include disclosures on a public website, easily accessible… Alternatively, ISPs can present their disclosures to the Commission, and we will make them available on the website that be in the open, easily accessible.
This strict disclosure process will obviously apply to the new disclosure requirements that we will talk about later in this article. But it is not clear to us whether any of the exhibits retained from the 2010 rules will have to be made at the point of sale. We asked the FCC this question last week and today and are still waiting for an answer.
Network management displays
In addition to pricing and data cap disclosures, the 2010 and 2015 transparency laws also require ISPs to inform customers about network performance and how they manage their networks.
Speed and latency are to be disclosed under the 2010 rules, including steps taken by ISPs to manage congestion, limitations imposed on applications, and device attachment rules and restrictions.
The 2015 rules enhanced these requirements by, for example, adding packet loss as a required disclosure. Enhanced notifications have to be “reasonably related” to network activity in any user’s local area.
The limitations imposed on the types of users or data plans also have to be disclosed. In some cases, customers must be notified directly.
“We enhanced the process to require a mechanism for directly notifying end users of each network usage they will cause a network automation, based on their request before the deadline, that is likely to have a significant impact on the end user. using the service,” the 2015 rules said.
The FCC also created optional “food labels” that ISPs can use as a means of complying with enhanced content laws:
Pai’s repeal would eliminate the direct notification requirement, calling it “unnecessarily burdensome to ISPs and unnecessary in light of other forms of required disclosure.”
Broadband alternative nutrition labels are also included in Pai’s plan. Enhanced notifications including packet loss and coverage requirements were dropped as well, with Pai arguing that consumers generally don’t understand the network’s performance metrics:
(C) Consumers have little understanding of what packet loss means; what are they do want to know if their Internet Access service will support real-time applications, which is the user-facing aspect of these performance metrics.
We asked Pai’s office if he thinks consumers are still confused by the soon-to-be-released notifications about hidden costs and the consequences of going on data caps. We didn’t get an answer.
The best disinfectant
The new version of the transparency laws is effected by Pai’s proposed repeal of the bans on blocking, embezzlement, and payment preemption. Pai argued that consumers would be protected as long as ISPs demonstrated such behavior.
After the repeal, ISPs will be able to block, slow, and prioritize content in exchange for payment. They will have to disclose those practices on their websites or by providing the information to the FCC, although they will not have to make those disclosures to customers at the point of sale.
In addition to blocking, throttling, and payment prioritization, ISPs will have to introduce their own content prioritization, mitigation management practices, and limitations imposed on specific types of applications or devices.
Those disclosures, even without actual prohibitions on those practices, would be enough to protect Internet users, Pai argued.
“‘Sunlight,’ Justice Brandeis famously observed, ‘is . . . the best of destroyers,'” Pai opined.