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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.

The trade associations petitioned the FCC in January to change the rules and renewed their call last week in a filing and in a meeting with FCC officials. The requirement that ISPs list all their monthly fees “would add unnecessary complexity and burdens to the label for consumers and providers and could result in some providers having to create many labels for any given plan,” the groups said in the filing on Friday.

The trade groups said the FCC should instead “require providers to include an explanatory statement that such fees may apply and that they vary by jurisdiction, similar to the Commission’s treatment of government-imposed taxes,” or require “the display of the maximum level of government-imposed fees that might be passed through, so that consumers would not experience bill shock with respect to such fees.”

The filing was submitted by NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, which represents Comcast, Charter, Cox, and other cable companies. The NCTA’s ex parte filing described a meeting with FCC officials that also included wireless industry trade group CTIA and USTelecom, which represents telcos including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen (formerly CenturyLink), Frontier, and Windstream.

The meeting was attended by two other groups representing smaller ISPs: NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and ACA Connects-America’s Communications Association. The trade groups met on Wednesday with the legal advisors to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Brendan Carr, according to the filing.

Comcast accused of “trying to create loopholes”

Comcast submitted its own filing urging the FCC to scrap the rules in June. The calls to weaken the FCC’s truth-in-billing rules angered consumer advocates, as we wrote at the time. “The label hasn’t even reached consumers yet, but Comcast is already trying to create loopholes. This request would allow the big ISPs to continue hiding the true cost of service and frustrating customers with poor service,” Joshua Stager, policy director at media advocacy group Free Press, told Ars.

Congress required the FCC to implement broadband labels with exact prices for Internet service plans in a 2021 law, but gave the FCC some leeway in how to structure the rules. The FCC adopted specific label rules in November 2022.

The labels must be displayed to consumers at the point of sale and include monthly price, additional charges, speeds, data caps, additional charges for data, and other information. The FCC rules aren’t in force yet because they are subject to a federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review under the US Paperwork Reduction Act.

ISPs object to a portion of the FCC order that says, “providers must list all recurring monthly fees” including “all charges that providers impose at their discretion, i.e., charges not mandated by a government.” The five trade groups complain that this would require ISPs “to display the pass-through of fees imposed by federal, state, or local government agencies on the consumer broadband label.”

But just because an ISP says a fee is related to a government charge doesn’t mean that ISPs have to break them out separately. ISPs could instead include all costs in their advertised rates to give potential customers a clearer idea of how much they would have to pay each month.

“A provider that opts to combine all of its monthly discretionary fees with its base monthly price may do so and list that total price. In that case, the provider need not separately itemize those fees in the label,” the FCC order said.

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