Consumer Reports launches crowdsourced campaign for internet service transparency

Consumer Reports launches crowdsourced campaign for internet service transparency
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Consumer Reports is launching a nationwide campaign aimed at improving transparency of the cost and quality of broadband service.

The initiative, dubbed Broadband Together, will seek to do that by collecting the internet bills of tens of thousands of consumers to analyze the price and speed of services offered in different communities.

“For too long, the true cost and quality of internet service has been hidden and obscured,” said Marta Tellado, president and chief executive officer of Consumer Reports. “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.”

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Consumer Reports is partnering with 40 organizations to get the word out to consumers and have them fill out the campaign’s online survey.

The short questionnaire offers to test local internet speed then asks for a copy of a recent broadband bill and some basic optional demographic questions.

The organizations pushing the project are hopeful that gathering enough of that information will put them in a stronger position to advocate for reforms targeted at lowering prices and improving service.

“To create a better marketplace, we need to know the truth about our internet prices and fees,” Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel at Consumer Reports, said.

While previous efforts, including industry surveys and studies of publicly offered fees, have shed some light on broadband price disparities, Schwantes explained that the information from bills could be uniquely revelatory.

“With a large enough sample size you could answer some hard questions with regards to digital redlining or whether we’re putting too much stock into competition lowering rates,” he told The Hill. 

Consumer Reports ran a similar campaign in 2018 where it collected and analyzed over 1,000 cable bills.

This time around, the organization has adopted new methodologies and is hoping to look at tens of thousands of bills before publishing any results. 

Consumer Reports is making efforts to balance the makeup of the participants in Broadband Together to be reflective of the U.S. through its campaign partners including Color of Change and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

Many broadband advocates have made improving transparency a priority as the government prepares to potentially invest billions into new infrastructure.

The Biden administration made some moves toward that with an executive order last week that directed the Federal Communications Commission to revive the “broadband nutrition label” that was under development in 2016. The label would provide a standardized form for providers to share their prices and performance details with consumers.

The FCC was also asked to start the process of requiring providers to report their prices to the regulatory body regularly as part of the order.