The Times-Picayune and The Advocate join national effort to take stock of broadband quality

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The Times-Picayune and The Advocate are joining in a national effort, led by Consumer Reports, to assess disparities in the quality of broadband service customers across the U.S. receive, and how much they are paying for it.

Since the pandemic began, it’s become increasingly clear that the internet is an essential lifeline for American families, enabling many people to work from home, attend school, make telehealth appointments, and apply for jobs and benefits. It’s also been the way many people 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 Broadband Together to investigate the state of broadband in the U.S.

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

When you visit the new 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. The hope is to get tens of thousands of consumers to participate.

Plans call for publishing the findings this fall.

The Broadband Together coalition takes privacy very seriously and actively works to

secure your personal information. When you upload your bill, the files will be encrypted to help ensure that the information is protected and secure. Further, the analysis will only record relevant data such as price, bundle, speed, and hidden fees for further investigation. Bills will be deleted when they’re no longer needed.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, and society turned to technology to stay connected, the rural town of Ville Platte was left in a lurch. …

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The aim is to use the findings from the Broadband Together initiative to press internet service providers and government officials to deliver greater access to fair, affordable, reliable internet services, 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,” he 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 of 2,565 U.S. adults shows that while most Americans do have internet access through a cable or fiber connection, 20% rely on typically slower, less reliable technologies, mainly cellular plans or DSL service. And 3% have no internet access at all.

Americans also have few options when it comes to choosing an internet provider. Among those who have a wired internet connection in their homes, 26% don’t have any choice at all — there’s just one provider available to them. An additional 32% only have two options.

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

Consumer Reports is working on the 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.

The Times-Picayune and The Advocate are among a number of media organizations that have agreed to work with Consumer Reports to inform readers about the project. The group also includes The Verge, El Paso Matters and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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