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Consumer Reports survey on broadband affordability, accessibility, and quality of service in the United States

Washington, DC – A new survey details the challenges and frustrations that consumers in the U.S. are experiencing when it comes to the cost and availability of broadband services.

This June, CR conducted a nationally representative multi-mode survey of 2,565 adults administered by NORC at the University of Chicago. The survey sought to assess Americans’ access to broadband internet services and gauge their experiences with their service.

Since 2017 Consumer Reports has been asking Americans if internet service access is as critical to their daily lives as basic necessities such as electricity and water.  The percentage of Americans saying it is as important as other basic necessities has increased during the pandemic, from 61% in 2017 to 76% in February 2021.  People rely on the internet for school, work, health care, and communication. Yet, the survey shows that accessible, reliable, and affordable broadband continues to be out of reach for millions of Americans. 

“The pandemic illuminated how much people need access to an affordable, reliable internet connection,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel at CR. “This survey reinforces what we already suspected: that getting online for millions of Americans is too costly and in many cases the service is inadequate. As the pandemic continues, being able to connect to broadband internet makes all the difference in the world, whether you are applying to a job or video chatting with family and friends.”

Key findings of the survey include: 

Access to internet

  • About three out of four (77%) Americans say their household accesses the internet using a broadband service–high speed internet through a fixed cable or connection. 
  • Fifteen percent of American households only have access to the internet through their smartphone data plan and one in 20 use DSL or dial-up to access the internet. 

Reasons for not having broadband

  • Nearly a third of Americans (32%) who do not have broadband say the reason they do not have it is because it costs too much.
  • A quarter of Americans who don’t have broadband in their homes say it is because it is not available where they live.

Cost of broadband

  • Overall, the median amount paid by Americans for broadband service is $70 per month (including taxes and fees.) 
  • Nearly a quarter of Americans (24%) who have a broadband service at their home say it’s difficult to afford their monthly broadband costs. A larger percentage of Black, non-Hispanic (32%) and Hispanic (33%) Americans than white, non Hispanic Americans (21%) say it’s ‘somewhat’ or ‘very’ difficult to afford their monthly internet costs. 
  • Forty-three percent (43%) of Americans who have broadband service in their household say they are dissatisfied with the value they get for the money. 

Opinions about municipal/community broadband

  • Three out of four Americans feel that municipal/community broadband should be allowed because it would ensure that broadband access is treated like other vital infrastructure such as highways, bridges, water systems, and electrical grids, allowing all Americans to have equal access to it. 
  • A larger percentage of Democrats (85%) than Independents (74%) and Republicans (63%) say municipal/community broadband should be allowed.

The U.S. Congress is currently working on an infrastructure package that would invest $65 billion in broadband to help bridge the digital divide, increase competition, and bring much needed transparency to the broadband industry with the requirement of a broadband nutrition label. Schwantes adds, “This is a good step towards addressing many of the issues with the current state of the broadband marketplace. We support the efforts of the bipartisan group of senators and the White House for their leadership in making broadband more affordable and accessible for consumers.”

The survey highlights many of the issues Americans have in today’s broadband marketplace. Earlier this month, CR, along with a coalition of more than 40 partners across the country, launched an ambitious project called Broadband Together to investigate the state of internet access throughout the country. CR is working with this broad coalition to ask thousands of consumers to submit their internet bills so CR can analyze the cost, quality, and speeds that are being delivered to better understand the factors that affect price and why consumers pay different rates for the same service. To learn more and take part in this exciting new project, visit broadbandtogether.org.

Media contact: Cyrus Rassool, cyrus.rassool@consumer.org