New 'Let's Broadband Together' Initiative Will Tackle Internet Fairness

The program launches as a new CR survey finds that millions of Americans lack fast internet service or struggle to afford their plans

Family looking at computer screen Photo: Julia M Cameron/Pexels

During the past 18 months, it has become increasingly clear that the internet is an essential lifeline for American families, enabling us to work from home, attend school, make telehealth appointments, and apply for jobs and benefits. It has also been the way many of us have visited with friends and families and kept ourselves entertained as we spent much more time at home.

But not everyone has access to affordable, reliable internet service. That’s why Consumer Reports, along with a coalition of partners, is embarking on an ambitious project called Let’s Broadband Together to investigate the state of internet access in the U.S.

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“Our country is way behind in treating accessible and affordable broadband as an absolute necessity,” says Marta Tellado, president and chief executive officer of Consumer Reports. “But there’s a sleeping giant of consumer power just waiting to be activated. And we plan to shine a light on the reality of U.S. broadband today, so every American can have better opportunities tomorrow.”

When you go to the new Let’s Broadband Together website, you’ll first sign up for a free Consumer Reports account if you’re not already a member. Then you’ll take a quick internet speed test, and be guided to share your internet bill and answer a few questions about your broadband service. We’re aiming to get tens of thousands of consumers to participate and publish our initial results this fall.

The Let’s Broadband Together coalition takes privacy very seriously and actively works to secure participants’ personal information. When you upload your bill, the files will be encrypted to help ensure that the information is protected and secure. Further, CR’s analysis will record only relevant data, such as price, bundle, speed, and hidden fees, for further investigation. We will delete bills when they’re no longer needed. 

A laptop computer screen displaying the results of a broadband speed test
At the Let's Broadband Together website, consumers can participate in CR's initiative by taking an internet speed test, then uploading a bill.

Image: Consumer Reports, iStock Image: Consumer Reports, iStock

The findings from the Let’s Broadband Together initiative will help CR in its effort to press internet service providers and government officials to deliver greater access to fair, affordable, reliable internet service, according to Jonathan Schwantes, a Consumer Reports senior policy counsel.

“To create a better marketplace, we need to know the truth about our internet prices and fees,” Schwantes says. “Consumers sometimes spend more money for less service, thanks to confusing pricing and a lack of competition, and too many people simply cannot get online because there is no service where they live, or they cannot afford it.” 

A new, nationally representative Consumer Reports survey (PDF) of 2,565 U.S. adults shows that while most Americans do have internet access through a cable or fiber connection, 20 percent rely on typically slower, less reliable technologies, mainly cellular plans or DSL service. And 3 percent have no internet access at all.

America's Uneven Internet Access
Lack wired, high-speed
internet service.
Find their current
high-speed internet service
difficult to afford.
SOURCE: June 2021 CR nationally representative survey of 2,565 U.S. adults.

Americans also have few options when it comes to choosing an internet provider. Twenty-six percent of those who have a wired internet connection in their homes don’t have any choice at all—there’s just one provider available to them. An additional 32 percent only have two options. 

Cost also remains a common obstacle for many American households. The CR survey shows that almost one-third of those who don’t have wired internet in their homes cite cost as a reason. Among people who do have wired internet, 24 percent find it somewhat or very difficult to swing the monthly bills.

Consumer Reports is working on the Let’s Broadband Together initiative with a diverse coalition of more than 40 partner organizations from across the country. Steering committee members include Access Now, American Library Association, Amerind, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, BroadbandNow, Color of Change, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, New America’s Open Technology Institute, mLab, Public Knowledge, Rural Assembly, Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, and X-Lab at Penn State University.

This project is funded in part by the Craig Newmark Philanthropies and the Ford Foundation. 

James K. Willcox

I've been a tech journalist for more years than I'm willing to admit. My specialties at CR are TVs, streaming media, audio, and TV and broadband services. In my spare time I build and play guitars and bass, ride motorcycles, and like to sail—hobbies I've not yet figured out how to safely combine.