Consumer Reports: Millions of Americans Lack Fast Internet Service

Friday August 6, 2021

Weekly summary

You are reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the most important (or neglected) broadband stories of the week. The digest is sent by email every Friday.

This week, the guest author James K. Willcox of Consumer Reports walks us through the results of a recent home broadband survey.

Review of the week from August 2 to 6, 2021

James K. Willcox

Millions of Americans struggle to pay for fast internet service, or find it not available where they live, according to a new Consumer Reports survey.

The national representative survey of 2,565 adults (PDF), conducted in June this year, adds urgency to debates over broadband infrastructure and competition, according to consumer advocates.

About 3 in 4 Americans report having high-speed or broadband Internet service in their homes. But 1 in 20 people say they depend on slow DSL connections or a dial-up service, 15% use their cell phone plans to access the Internet, and 3% of Americans say they have no Internet access at home.

Almost a third of those without broadband say it’s because it costs too much, while about a quarter of those who do say they find it hard to afford it .

“This investigation reinforces what we already suspected: Getting millions of Americans online is too expensive and, in many cases, the service is inadequate,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy adviser at Consumer Reports. “As the pandemic continues, being able to connect to the high-speed internet is making all the difference in the world, whether you are applying for a job or video chatting with family and friends. “

However, there is something consumers can do to help cut costs.

The survey shows that many people have successfully negotiated with their broadband providers to get a better deal over the past 12 months. Almost half of those who negotiated for better features, such as faster speed, were successful, while 42% who negotiated for a better price were able to get one.

Difficulty paying monthly bills

According to the survey, 43% of Americans with home broadband service are using it more now than before the pandemic, and 16% have decided to upgrade their plans to meet their growing needs.

Hispanic, black and Asian consumers were the most likely to upgrade their existing service. However, the difficulty of providing fast Internet service is disproportionately felt among communities of color. Thirty-two percent of blacks and 33 percent of Hispanic Americans who have a broadband connection at home say they have difficulty paying their bills. This is true for 21% of white Americans.

According to the survey, the median monthly broadband bill, including taxes and fees, is around $ 70. In areas where there is competition, prices are lower. The median monthly price in a market with a single supplier is $ 75, but that figure drops to $ 68 when consumers have a choice of three suppliers.

Pay more to follow

People of color more likely to upgrade their service in response to COVID-19

Source: Consumer Reports nationally representative survey of June 2021 of 2,565 adult residents of the United States.

Lack of local infrastructure is also a barrier for some Americans, especially those who live in rural areas. Of those who do not have broadband internet service, a quarter say it is because it is not available where they live.

The survey shows that more African American households (21%) use smartphones to access the Internet at home than white (14%) or Hispanic (15%) households.

To gather more information on prices and Internet access, Consumer Reports is working with a coalition of partner organizations to collect and analyze thousands of Internet bills across the United States. Individuals can participate in the Broadband Together Project by taking an Internet speed test, sharing a bill, and answering a few questions about your broadband service.

Consumer Reports plans to release the first results this fall, in partnership with several other media outlets.

Municipal broadband support

The Consumer Reports survey also gathered information on municipal broadband services, in which a city offers its own Internet packages to residents, often in partnership with a private company.

These city-run services can provide fast connections to the homes of residents of neighborhoods where no other Internet service provider is available. They can also introduce competition – and often lower prices – in markets that lack it.

Many of these municipal broadband services are popular with their customers. EPB, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, has consistently featured at the top of Consumer Reports telecommunications assessments for Internet service providers.

About 20 states have restricted or banned these Internet services to prevent local governments from competing with private companies. Consumer Reports and other advocacy groups have long opposed such restrictions.

Most Americans share this point of view. Three in four Americans believe that municipal broadband services should be licensed to ensure all Americans have equal access to the Internet.

According to the survey, the level of support varies by political affiliation, but is shared by majorities of Democrats (85%), Independents (74%) and Republicans (63%).

James K. Willcox has been a technical journalist for more years than he likes to admit. His specialties at Consumer Reports are televisions, streaming media, audio, and television and broadband services. In his spare time he builds and plays guitar and bass, rides motorcycles, and enjoys sailing, hobbies he hasn’t yet figured out how to combine safely.

This article, reprinted here with permission, originally appeared on Consumer Reports at

Fast bits

Weekend readings (resist tl; dr)

Benton’s ICYMI

Events to come

August 11 – Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (NTIA) Webinar

August 12 – Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (NTIA) Webinar

August 12 — The Impact Summit (Impact Labs)

Aug 12 – Broadband Data Task Force Webinar on Broadband DATA Act Crowdsourcing (FCC) Challenge, Verification and Technical Requirements Proposals

August 18 – Connecting Minority Communities (NTIA) Pilot Webinar

August 19 – Connecting Minority Communities (NTIA) Pilot Webinar

August 19 – Task Force to Review Connectivity and Technology Needs for Precision Agriculture in the United States (FCC)

August 23 – Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (NTIA) Webinar

August 24 – Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program (NTIA) Webinar

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