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Internet providers are fighting to keep consumers in the dark about their pricing

The U.S. government is cracking down on digital discrimination in the broadband internet service industry, and internet providers aren’t too happy about it. AT&T, Verizon, Charter and Comcast, along with a few other service providers, are opposing the Federal Communications Commission’s plan to investigate pricing when tackling digital discrimination.

On Nov. 15, 2021, a congressional mandate (the Infrastructure Act) required the FCC to adopt rules that prevent “digital discrimination of access based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin” in no more than two years. The commission created a draft plan last month, and scheduled a commission vote to adopt the rules on Nov. 15.

The draft plan cites the Infrastructure Act, which would require the FCC to create rules for internet service providers to “display easy-to-understand labels that allow consumers to comparison shop for broadband services.” This means that providers would have to provide consumers with “clear, concise, and accurate information about broadband internet prices and fees, performance, and network practices.”

Also, when determining digital discrimination, the FCC will look into the pricing internet service providers are charging consumers, saying that “statutory language encompasses discriminatory pricing.”

“We emphasize that the rules we adopt today do not set rates for broadband internet access service and are not an attempt to institute rate regulation,” said the FCC in its draft plan.

Related: T-Mobile’s latest change forces customers to pay more

Internet providers have been found to price their services based on neighborhood demographics. Also, in some cases, neighborhoods with lower incomes have been found to have lower-quality technology than those in more wealthier neighborhoods.

In a report that was released in 2022 by The Markup, data from 38 cities across the country was analyzed and revealed that AT&T, Verizon, EarthLink and CenturyLink provided lower-income and less white neighborhoods with slower internet for the same price that whiter, more affluent neighborhoods that were nearby paid for faster speeds.

FCC plan faced internet provider opposition

The FCC’s plan to tackle price discrimination has faced opposition from AT&T, Verizon, Charter and Comcast. All companies have expressed their concern about the FCC’s plan in submitted filings and have even met with the commission several times to argue the rules.

In a filing from Verizon on Nov. 3, the company said that the FCC misinterpreted Congress’ language in the Infrastructure Act, saying that it didn’t explicitly mention pricing when ordering the commission to crack down on digital discrimination.

“The importance of pricing to a customer’s purchasing decision and Congress’s decision to omit ‘rates’ or ‘pricing’ and use only ‘terms and conditions’ demonstrates that Congress did not want the Commission’s digital discrimination inquiry to include prices” said Verizon in the filing.

Also, according to a filing from the Internet & Television Association on Nov. 7, which includes Charter and Comcast, it said that the FCC should “define digital discrimination as disparate treatment and should limit the standard to policies and practices involving the deployment of broadband network facilities.”

Association disputes FCC plan language

The association also said that the language of the FCC’s draft plan would regulate pricing even though the commission said that it does not intend to.

“Regulation of price or non-technical elements, such as marketing, advertising, discounts, or credit checks, would represent a regulatory sea change for the Commission that is inconsistent with the statute,” said the association in the filing.

The FCC has already turned down arguments against its plan to investigate pricing in its draft plan.

“We reject arguments that we should limit the scope of covered elements of service to deployment practices or technical terms of service, or that we exclude certain terms, such as pricing,” the FCC said.

https://www.thestreet.com/technology/internet-providers-are-fighting-to-keep-consumers-in-the-dark-about-their-pricing Internet providers are fighting to keep consumers in the dark about their pricing

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