T-Mobile US’s latest campaign, “Make Xfinity Your Ex,” was bound to generate headlines even before the Un-carrier decided to take a day-long spin around Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters in a billboard truck, casting aspersions on recent cost increases to the cable operator’s home internet service.

Not only does the campaign mark the continued escalation of the already-heated competition pitting US wireless carriers’ 5G FWA offerings against cable operators’ entrenched home internet services, but it also finds T-Mobile doing one of the things the company does so well: positioning itself as a market disruptor while gleefully thumbing its nose at an incumbent. Yet, T-Mobile and Comcast’s recent run of highly targeted advertising and promotional activity also provides an interesting case study of how the upcoming broadband labels from the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could prove a boon to consumers forced to wade through an ocean of figures and fine print when considering what residential broadband service will suit their needs and meet their budgets.

T-Mobile and Comcast take turns spotlighting customer complaints

Comcast’s December 2022 internet service increase only impacts the 400Mbps tier – a common selection for those just looking to get enough internet for reliable streaming and surfing during peak evening hours – and there’s a hike to its modem rental fee. The increases lie along the fault lines of two consumer pain points: customers at more affordable price points too often get far less value for their money, and increases to line items beyond the core service fee threaten to let broadband bills run amok. While T-Mobile has aimed its newest promotion’s marketing shout squarely at Comcast, the promotion’s offer of up to $750 in early termination fee relief actually extends to subscribers switching from any internet service provider. And to be clear: Comcast isn’t alone in raising prices recently. The details of Comcast’s increase, however, gave T-Mobile the opportunity to underline and address common consumer gripes, a central aspect of T-Mobile’s market ethos.

Of course, Comcast has been running its own offensive to maintain its hold in the US residential broadband space. The company’s TV spot depicting T-Mobile Home Internet customers as quasi-vampires – thanks to alleged FWA limitations forcing them to adopt a nocturnal lifestyle – has been hard to miss. Still, while the claims and grievances T-Mobile and Comcast level at one another makes for nice marketing fodder, they are also fairly representative of the very issues that the FCC hopes to address with its long-overdue consumer broadband service labels.

FCC aims to help consumers navigate murky waters with broadband labels

The FCC finally moved last month to adopt rules mandating easy-to-understand labels for consumer fixed and mobile broadband services, hoping to give consumers a handy way to make more apples-to-apples comparisons between service providers’ offerings. The labels, which will need to be displayed prominently at the point of sale, will clear up some of the vagaries surrounding consumers’ monthly spending by spelling out the variance between introductory and standard rates, enumerating all the one-off and monthly fees, and providing typical service speeds, rather than just the advertised speeds based on optimal service conditions.

Broadband is tantamount to a utility these days for many US consumers. Subscribers need clarity on both cost and performance, particularly given the increased importance broadband connectivity has taken on since the onset of the pandemic. The bad news is that the labels will remain mired in bureaucracy for a little while longer, as the Office of Management and Budget still needs to sign off on the initiative. Until that red tape gets cleared, consumers will be left to their own devices – though T-Mobile and Comcast will remain happy to underline one another’s shortcomings in the interim.

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