How is the FCC Working to Protect Broadband Consumers?

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, March 8, 2024

Weekly Digest

How is the FCC Working to Protect Broadband Consumers?

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of March 4-8, 2024

Grace Tepper

The Biden Administration has launched a new effort to lower costs and promote competition for US consumers. The Strike Force on Unfair and Illegal Pricing––co-chaired by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)––aims to strengthen interagency efforts to root out and stop illegal corporate behavior that hikes prices on consumers through anti-competitive, unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent business practices. The announcement included upcoming actions to be taken by the White House Competition Council to promote competition and lower costs across industries, including for broadband consumers. 

The White House announcement highlights the Federal Communications Commission's consumer protection role. Here we look at the FCC's efforts to address “bulk billing” arrangements, early termination fees, net neutrality, and digital discrimination.

Lowering Broadband Costs in Apartment Buildings

This week, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated proposed rules to lower costs and address the lack of choice for broadband services available to households in apartments, condos, public housing, and other multi-tenant buildings. The rules would eliminate “bulk billing” arrangements imposed on tenants that impose a specific broadband service provider for their household. Bulk billing is a practice by which landlords or providers charge everyone living or working in a building for a particular internet, cable, or satellite service, even if they don’t want it or haven’t opted in. These arrangements limit consumer choice by preventing tenants from choosing the services at the price point and level that are best for their needs, and can impose fees for unnecessary services and deter competition. In addition, the proposed rule seeks to address other exclusive arrangements between service providers and landlords that impede competition and drive-up prices, such as exclusive wiring arrangements, exclusive marketing arrangements, and certain revenue sharing agreements.

Specifically, the FCC's Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeks public comment on banning bulk billing arrangements. The NPRM proposes allowing tenants to opt out of bulk billing arrangements and increasing competition for communications services in these buildings by making it more profitable for competitive providers to deploy service in buildings where it is currently too expensive to serve consumers because tenants are required to take a certain provider’s service. The NPRM also seek comment on other practices that may limit consumer choice in multi-unit buildings.

This effort builds on the FCC's 2022 rules to increase competition in apartment buildings. In the 2022 Report and Order, the FCC adopted new rules prohibiting practices that undermine the FCC’s longstanding prohibition on exclusive access contracts. This prevents telecommunications carriers and Multichannel Video Programming Distribution Services (MVPDs) from establishing exclusive and graduated revenue-sharing agreements. The FCC also requires that telecommunications carriers and MVPDs include disclaimers on marketing materials distributed to apartment building tenants that inform tenants of the existence of an exclusive marketing arrangement.

The FCC also clarified that its cable inside wiring rules prohibit sale-and-leaseback arrangements between MVPDs and residential apartment building owners, because they effectively deny access to alternative providers.

The new proposed rules seek to build on the FCC's actions to increase consumer choice and promote competition in multi-tenant buildings.

Lowering Costs and Improving Access in the Communications Sector

Beginning on April 10, 2024, the FCC will require the majority of internet service providers (ISPs) to have clear, easy-to-understand, and accurate information about the cost and performance of their broadband service offerings at the point of sale through new mandatory Broadband Consumer Labels. ISPs with 100,000 or fewer subscriber lines must comply by October 10, 2024.

The FCC's Broadband Consumer Label rules are a response to a directive from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). The IIJA directed the FCC to require providers to create these consumer-friendly labels, which have to disclose important information about broadband prices, introductory rates, data allowances, and broadband speeds, and include links to information about network management practices, privacy policies, and the FCC's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP).

At its upcoming Open Commission Meeting on March 14, the FCC will also consider a Report and Order to require cable and satellite
TV providers to specify the “all-in” price for video programming services in promotional materials and on subscribers’ bills in order to allow consumers to make informed choices.

Net Neutrality

The White House also highlighted the FCC's ongoing work to restore net neutrality, which will prohibit ISPs from blocking legal content, throttling speeds, and creating fast lanes that favor those who can pay for access. In October 2023, the FCC released an NPRM to restore its Title II authority over broadband internet access service, classifying it as a telecommunications service under the Communications Act of 1934.

This authority will allow the FCC to:

  1. Protect consumers by issuing straightforward, clear rules to prevent ISPs from engaging in practices harmful to consumers, competition, and public safety, and by establishing a national regulatory approach rather than disparate requirements that vary state-by-state;
  2. Strengthen the Commission’s ability to secure communications networks and critical infrastructure against national security threats; and
  3. Enable the Commission to protect public safety during natural disasters and other emergencies.

The FCC is expected to vote on these at its April 2024 open meeting.

Preventing Digital Discrimination

In November 2023, the FCC adopted final rules to prevent digital discrimination of access to broadband services based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin as directed by the IIJA.

These rules establish a framework to facilitate equal access to broadband internet services. Under the rules, the FCC can protect consumers by directly addressing companies’ policies and practices if they differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service or are intended to do so, and by applying these protections to ensure communities see equitable broadband deployment, network upgrades, and maintenance.

The rules define “digital discrimination of access” as “policies or practices, not justified by genuine issues of technical or economic feasibility, that

  • differentially impact consumers’ access to broadband internet access service based on their income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion or national origin, or
  • are intended to have such differential impact.”

As the law requires, the FCC will consider arguments that legitimate business impediments preclude equal access to broadband service in particular communities.

Looking Ahead

The Biden Administration is estimating the new consumer protection actions will save consumers over $20 billion annually. This requires cooperation between federal agencies, like the FCC, with the Strike Force run by the DOJ and FTC in order to advance equal access to broadband services for consumers.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Mar 8––Ask Me Anything! with Joanne Hovis, President of CTC Technology & Energy (

Mar 12––Connecting One Minnesota (Minnesota Office of Broadband Development)

Mar 13––Stories from NTIA’s Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives and the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program (NTIA)

Mar 14––March 2024 Open Federal Communications Commission Meeting (FCC)

Mar 20––The Way Forward for U.S. Spectrum Policy (Information Technology & Innovation Foundation)

Mar 20––Life After ACP (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)

Mar 25––The Right Connection (CENIC)

Apr 9––Broadband Equity is Local (Community Broadband Action Network)

Apr 17––2024 Bipartisan Tech Policy Conference (Next Century Cities)

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

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