Cable TV companies are pushing back on the Federal Communications Commission proposal to look into the overall affordability of broadband.
At its next congressionally required review of broadband deployment, the Commission wants to analyze internet service providers’ monthly prices, data overage charges, and other fees. The investigation could also create an affordability benchmark, which would help determine what providers are doing to make high-speed internet affordable, according to Ars Technica.
“To truly close the connectivity gap and ensure that all Americans have access to advanced telecommunications capability, broadband services must be affordable,” the FCC said in a Notice of Inquiry released last month.
NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, the group that represents cable providers, hit back saying that the FCC’s “undue focus on affordability—or pricing—is particularly inappropriate.” The group argues that a price benchmark could lead to rate regulation.
While the government and internet service providers agree on the need to close the connectivity gap by ensuring everyone in the U.S. has access to reliable, high-speed internet, the entities are divided on what authority the government has to set prices for internet and TV.
“While the Commission has reiterated that it has no interest in any kind of rate regulation, the proposal to make a traditional deployment analysis contingent on whether the Commission determines that broadband pricing is sufficiently affordable suggests that rate regulation in some form is potentially on the table,” NCTA said in an FCC filing earlier this month.
Under the Telecommunications Act, the FCC is required to determine whether broadband is being deployed at a “reasonable and timely basis.” If it isn’t, the FCC is obligated to take “immediate action.”
This isn’t the first time that cable companies and the FCC have butted heads. In October, the FCC said broadband providers must start displaying “nutrition labels” that break down the price of their services. The labels are designed to make paying for internet access easier by cutting out promotional lingo and technical jargon, hold providers accountable to customers, and expose fine print about data caps or hidden charges.
NCTA, cable group ACA Connects, and wireless trade group CTIA pushed back on the order arguing that the labels would only serve to further confuse customers.
Broadband providers also disagreed with the FCC’s proposed “disparate impact” standard for identifying digital discrimination. Providers said the standards would be too broad and could lead to heavy-handed sanctions. Last month, the FCC approved rules barring discrimination of broadband access that unfairly excluded people by income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin.