Broadband at home

Consumer Reports has launched a major initiative to be known as Broadband Together that aims to “uncover what people really pay – and what they are really getting – for their internet service.”

The research will be based on broadband internet bills submitted by consumers. Consumer Reports pledges to protect consumer privacy.

The project is funded in part by the Craig Newmark Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation. Consumer Reports also is working with a coalition of more than 40 consumer groups and other organizations on the project. Among these are the American Library Association, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, BroadbandNow, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and Public Knowledge.

“People get stuck with slow speeds and poor quality of service because of a lack of competition in their community,” Consumer Reports said in a press release. “Some consumers spend more money for less service, thanks to confusing pricing, and too many people simply cannot get online because there is no service where they live, or they cannot afford it.”

“The Internet is not a luxury – it’s a necessity,” said Marta Tellado, president and CEO of Consumer Reports, in the release. “Broadband must be available, accessible and affordable for all, including low-income households and rural areas. For too long, the true cost and quality of internet service has been hidden and obscured. We want to shine a light on what’s really happening, so every American can have the quality internet they need to succeed today and into the future.”

A Major Policy Issue

The Consumer Reports Broadband Together initiative comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has made broadband availability and affordability center stage items for policymakers.

The CARES Act COVID-19 relief package boosted funding for broadband deployments through the USDA ReConnect program and through funding awarded to states, which states were allowed to use for a variety of purposes, including broadband. And the infrastructure legislation that federal legislators are expected to pass is targeted to include even more funding for broadband.

As for affordability, the Emergency Broadband Benefit program has made funding available to help consumers pay their broadband bills and purchase the devices needed to connect to broadband service. And the Emergency Connectivity Fund aims to enable school children to have broadband connectivity and devices at home to help ensure their academic progress.

Whether the proposed infrastructure package will include funding for affordability initiatives is a matter of debate, with Democrats – including President Biden – arguing that broadband should be more affordable, while Republicans argue that an affordability program doesn’t belong in an infrastructure bill.

Consumer Reports did not provide a deadline for when it expects to have results from the Broadband Together initiative. But if they are available before Congress votes on the infrastructure legislation, perhaps they could help shape the direction of that legislation.

Additional information about the initiative, including an online form to submit a bill, can be found at this link.

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