FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program Shutdown Silent on Broadband Labels

What will happen to the agency’s rules that legally require ISPs to display broadband 'nutrition' labels that promote the ACP?

FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program Shutdown Silent on Broadband Labels
Updated CAF map from USAC

WASHINGTON, January 16, 2024 – The Federal Communications Commission staff on Thursday issued an order on winding down the Affordable Connectivity Program, the two-year-old broadband subsidy program for low-income households that is running out of money.

The FCC’s 15-page ACP order contained detailed instructions to Internet Service Providers, including that they are to stop accepting new ACP enrollments after Feb. 7, 2024.

But the FCC was silent on a key issue: What’s going to happen to the agency’s rules that legally require ISPs to display broadband “nutrition” labels that promote the ACP?

In late 2022, the FCC adopted label rules that require broadband ISPs to “display at the point-of-sale clear, easy-to-understand, and accurate information about the cost and performance of broadband services …”

Within the label, ISPs are required to promote the ACP by briefly describing the plan, inserting a link to the FCC’s ACP portal GetInternet.gov, and disclosing whether the ISP participates in the ACP.

For ISPs with more than 100,000 subscribers, the deadline to roll out the labels is April 10, 2024. All others have until Oct. 24, 2024.

According to the FCC, this April will be the ACP’s final full month unless Congress provides new money. Begun in late 2021 with $14.2 billion in funding, ACP provides $30 monthly discounts on the broadband bills of the program’s more than 22 million household enrollees.

ISPs still need guidance on whether to include the ACP in consumer labels

But ISPs apparently still need FCC guidance on whether they are to jettison the ACP section in their broadband consumer labels and when they would need to do so. Without word from the FCC, ISPs could be caught in a bind in needing to promote the ACP via consumer labels and rejecting eligible ACP applicants under the FCC’s enrollment freeze that begins on Feb. 8, 2023.

In the November 2022 order adopting the broadband consumer labels, the FCC recognized a problem with the labels program in the event the ACP were to shut down.

“Including language on the labels directing consumers to learn about the ACP in the event that the ACP has ended or is no longer accepting new enrollments could cause customer confusion and frustration,” the FCC said.

The agency directed the Wireline Competition Bureau – which issued the Jan. 11, 2024 ACP order – “to ensure that any wind-down procedures for the ACP developed as directed by the ACP Order address the need for providers to remove or modify the ACP-specific language on the broadband label.”

Google Fiber rolled out broadband labels last October, according to a filing with the FCC.

“Google Fiber discussed its experience gathering the necessary information for its label, including where it encountered challenges and how it addressed those issues. Google Fiber also shared its customer support webpages addressing its broadband nutrition label as well as a recent blog post announcing the early launch of its nutrition label,” Ariane Schaffer, Google Fiber’s Government Affairs and Public Policy Manager, said in the filing.

Google Fiber is available in 13 cities and 10 states, providing Internet access service to 4.1 million people, according to BroadbandNow. Top markets include San Antonio, Texas, Kansas City, Mo., and Raleigh, N.C.

Ted Hearn is the Editor of Policyband, a new website dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the broadband communications market. This piece was published on Policyband on January 15, 2024, and is reprinted with permission.

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