Have you ever received a service bill and wondered what all those weird charges are? You call the service provider and ask for a breakdown and explanation. When you finish the call you are more confused than when you started. Well, apparently that seems to be the intention if a new study on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the United States comes out consumer reports is to believe. From our point of view as consumers, we believe in it.
We in the United States love to complain about our ISPs, but according to this report, there’s a reason for it. The average cost of high-speed Internet in the United States is $74.99 per month, with approximately 50% of households in the study paying between $60 and $90 per month. That’s not a particularly cheap bill considering some cell phone plans can cost a lot less, and in some cases these offer faster connection speeds than some home internet providers.
The study looked at more than 22,000 bills and had consumers take Internet speed tests and fill out a customer satisfaction survey. However, it is important to note that this is not necessarily representative of the national market, but it is a fairly solid sample size. Ultimately, the information outlined confusing bills, speed limits and a lack of competition. Then it ended with how regulators could make things better for consumers.
Research highlights ISP bundles in particular. Admittedly, bundles are a great way to save money. However, the cost of each service included in the package will not necessarily appear on the invoices. Comcast (Xfinity) is particularly credited for this practice. Discounts are also a point of confusion for consumers. Many ISPs offer promotions or introductory offers without clearly stating what the non-promotional rate will be to the consumer.
More line items can also make these bills confusing for consumers, such as: B. Fees and Data Cap Fees. In terms of fees, the bill may make it appear as if an imposed fee is some form of government-imposed fee that is unavoidable, when in reality it may just be a company-imposed fee, also known as a “garbage fee.” You can usually spot these junk fees, which can sometimes make up a pretty hefty chunk of the bill, simply by searching for terms that don’t seem to make any sense. Examples could be “internet infrastructure fee”, “network improvement fee” or “technology service fee”. Then we can add data caps and numerous broadband providers enforce them, like Comcast (Xfinity), Cox, Suddenlink, AT&T and Wave Broadband. When a provider allows “unlimited data,” it often adds up to an additional $49.99 per month on top of the basic service.
As you can see, all of these different fees, charges, and even discounts can make a consumer’s bill look cluttered and confusing. This is a big problem considering the internet has become a virtual necessity in the 21st century. The report, which found that many of the zip codes where bills and surveys were submitted had only one ISP operating, resulting in a lack of competition and consumer choice. In many cases, consumers only have to “deal with it” or “move”.
So how can this be made better? consumer reports created the Fight for Fair Internet program to address concerns like these. The organization’s report calls for bills to be clearer, specifically listing and labeling actual service on consumer bills. This is currently under review for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband “nutritional” label. The report also encourages more broadband competition. The lack of competition isn’t particularly consumer-friendly, so allowing and supporting the creation of community broadband and greater regulatory scrutiny of existing ISPs are advocates for thwarting competition in underserved areas. Finally, the report recommends strengthening FCC oversight of broadband providers. Essentially, this is another push for net neutrality reasons and calls for the FCC to reassert regulatory authority over the broadband industry to monitor price gouging and discourage anti-consumer practices.
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We hope regulators will listen to this report and maybe start doing something about it. After all, a 2020 report ranked the United States 27th when it comes to basic connectivity, indicating that potentially large segments of the population do not have reliable access to the internet. When we consider that this access is practically a necessity for work, school, and even just for job hunting, that’s not particularly good news.