Broadband labels should be simple and contain comparable data, says industry watchers: Broadband Breakfast

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WASHINGTON, April 7, 2022 — Industry experts have provided insight on the best ways to implement “nutrition” labels for broadband and reminded the Federal Communications Commission to keep it simple for consumers.

During the FCC’s second public hearing into consumer labels on Thursday, Ellen Petersdirector of the Center for Science and Communication for Research at the University of Oregon, said less information is more understandable to the average consumer.

She explained that providing super technical and granular data can leave consumers discouraged and confused, rather than more informed.

“Less information is better and that’s especially true for someone with less ability, they have less time – they’re just less motivated,” Peters said. She explained that even something as simple as units for measuring speed – whether it’s megabits per second or gigabits per second – must remain consistent so as not to confuse consumers.

“Don’t compare kilobytes to gigabytes,” she said. “Consumers don’t know how to do this. You have to do the math for them.

Peters also suggested that information be displayed side-by-side so consumers can more easily compare broadband plans. She also advised taking steps to help consumers figure out what their own needs are and how they use broadband.

“Help them figure out what type of broadband user they are,” Peters said. She explained that gamers, students, those who use telehealth or telework to work all have different broadband needs.

Interactive information

Lorrie Cranor, The director of Carnegie University’s Usable Privacy and Security Laboratory, which focuses on improving the usability of privacy and security software systems, said that whatever form labels take, consumers should have some ability to interact with them.

“One of the possibilities that we have now — now that labels don’t just have to be on printed paper anymore — is that we could have interactive information,” Cranor said.

She compared the situation to nutrition labels found in grocery stores. “If there is [is] some of the information I’m looking for, if it’s still in the same place, I can ignore some of the other information. So with food nutrition labels, if what’s important to me is cholesterol, and I don’t care about sodium. I can ignore sodium and just focus on cholesterol.

“So we have the ability to have digital labels where consumers could say, ‘Hey, I’m a gamer, that’s what I want,’ and just see the information that will be most relevant to them,” she said.

Peters pointed out that nearly a third of Americans struggle with counting — or the ability to work with and understand numbers. For this reason, even when presented with data that reflects cost, speed, and overall value, they may be unable to make an informed decision.

“Good decision-making requires more than just understanding information, as consumers also need to understand what broadband information means to their decision,” she said. “If there’s a monthly fee of $60 for 300 gigabytes, what does that mean for them?”

“[Consumers] must be able to understand the meaning of these facts and then be able to determine meaningful differences between the options.

The first broadband nutrition label hearing was held in March and was designed to determine the effectiveness of the labels. Although this is the first hearing, plans for the initiative were drawn up in 2015, but the plan was only made mandatory for broadband providers through an FCC vote. in January 2022.

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