Thursday, November 17, 2022
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Broadband service is too expensive for many Americans to afford. Consumer Reports ollected and analyzed more than 22,000 consumer broadband bills. Many of the consumers who shared their bills also took internet speed tests and completed a survey on their satisfaction with and the reliability of their internet service. While this is not a nationally representative study and is not predictive of the broadband market, it is one of the most ambitious efforts of its kind to understand how much consumers are paying at a moment in time. We believe our findings have important public policy implications.
- Median cost of service: Among the 18,359 consumer bills on which an internet price could be identified, the median cost of high-speed internet service was $74.99 per month. Approximately half of the households were paying between $60 and $90 per month.
- Confusing bills: Bills that are hard to understand make it difficult for consumers to budget and compare prices with alternative service options. The following factors contribute to this billing confusion:
- Bundles. Numerous internet service providers (ISPs), including Comcast (Xfinity), the nation’s largest provider, do not always itemize the internet price within their “bundled” TV, phone, and internet packages. This was true of 2,827 of the 22,088 bills we analyzed, and 1,810 were issued by Comcast. This practice makes it impossible for both consumers and CR’s researchers to determine the cost of the service and compare it with other providers.
- Discounts. Many ISPs offer discounts on broadband service, including introductory promotional discounts and conditional discounts such as auto-pay discounts. The discounts identified typically ranged from $10 to $50. Discounts generally benefit consumers, but also make it challenging for consumers and researchers to determine the true cost of service and to compare it with other providers’ prices. For example, it is not always clear from bills when discounts will expire and what the price will be afterward. Notably, more than half of the AT&T and Verizon bills we analyzed contained discounts, while none of the Google Fiber bills in our sample included discounts.
- Fees. ISPs charge a wide range of fees that, together, can add up to a significant portion of the overall cost of service and contribute to the confusion around internet pricing. Individual fees tied directly to internet service in our sample typically ranged from $2.49 to $9.95 per month. It is often difficult to determine whether these fees are associated with broadband or other elements of a service bundle. Some of these fees, such as the cost of renting a modem or wireless router from the provider, are avoidable, but most are not.
- Data cap charges. Several providers, including fixed broadband providers Comcast (Xfinity), Cox, Suddenlink, AT&T, and Wave Broadband, impose data caps in at least some areas and charge overage fees for exceeding those caps, or fees for unlimited data. Unlimited data can add as much as $49.99 per month to the base cost of service.
- Speed limitations: Some study participants clearly experience severe broadband speed limitations. Download speeds routinely fail to match the advertised “up to” speeds of several ISPs. This was especially true of consumers paying for “premium” plans purporting to offer download speeds of between 940 and 1,200 Mbps, who in fact experienced median speeds of between 360 and 373 Mbps.
- Lack of competition: CR collected 9,116 bills from ZIP codes where we detected just one ISP. In ZIP codes where bills from two ISPs were present in our sample, that number dipped to 7,273. Three or more competitors were spotted in ZIP codes accounting for only 1,802 bills.
[Editor's note: the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a partner in the Consumer Reports effort.]
The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) awards Nebraska with its first “Internet for All” grant for deploying high-speed Internet networks and developing digital skills training programs. Nebraska is receiving $5,598,563.04 in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to plan for the deployment and adoption of affordable, equitable, and reliable high-speed Internet throughout the state. Nebraska will receive $4,999,817.07 to fund:
- Identification of unserved and underserved locations;
- Capacity building of the state's broadband office;
- Creating a framework through which grants are distributed to subgrantees based on the structure in place for the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Program (NBBP) grant program;
- Improved understanding of the specific areas of need for high-speed Internet service;
- Outreach to communities throughout Nebraska.
Nebraska will receive $598,745.97 from the Digital Equity Act to fund:
- Developing Nebraska's Digital Equity Plan;
- Community outreach and engagement through public comments, regional or tribal digital equity planning committees, site visits, and regional listening sessions;
- Surveying for digital equity assets to understand barriers to high-speed Internet adoption;
- Subawards to Nebraska's eight economic development districts to develop seven regional digital equity plans.
The Federal Communications Commission is committing nearly $84 million in a new funding round through the Emergency Connectivity Program (ECP), which provides digital services for students in communities across the country. The funding commitments support applications from all three application windows, benefiting approximately 140,000 students across the country, including students in California, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. To date, the FCC has committed over $6.3 billion to schools and libraries across the country as part of the Emergency Connectivity Program. The announcement will support over 180 schools, 20 libraries, and 5 consortia. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, to ensure students across the country have the necessary support to keep up with their education.
In the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress recognizes that just extending the reach of broadband networks isn't enough; there is work to be done on broadband adoption as well. Many view access, adoption, and application (or use) as three legs of the digital equity stool in which individuals and communities have the connectivity and skills needed for full participation in our society and economy. Congress included the Digital Equity Act in the Infrastructure Law and provided $2.75 billion to establish three grant programs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The programs focus on increasing broadband adoption and ensuring that all people and communities have the skills, technology, and capacity needed to reap the full benefits of our digital economy.
American Connection Corps, an initiative operated by Lead for America, is the nation’s largest fellowship program focused on bridging the digital divide. AmeriCorps, Land O’Lakes, Heartland Forward’s Connecting the Heartland initiative (which supports fellows in their target states of Illinois, Ohio, Arkansas, and Tennessee), and select partners from the American Connection Project all support the corps. The American Connection Corps is building and empowering a new generation of leaders to help bring connectivity to communities.
The Federal Communications Commission is set to release the first round of its updated national broadband map. It’s supposed to show more precise and detailed information on internet availability all over the country. Marketplace spoke with Dustin Loup, program manager for the National Broadband Mapping Coalition, a digital advocacy group, about how the new map was developed, how the FCC will try to keep it updated and potential problems facing this updated version.
Dramatic increases in provisioned broadband speeds are continuing to shift the broadband landscape, including a continued increase in gigabit tier adoption, as well as migration of subscribers to speeds of 200 Mbps or higher. About 15% of subscribers were on gigabit tier plans in 3Q22, an increase of 35% over the 11.4% figure in 3Q21, and the percentage of subscribers on plans between 200-400 Mbps doubled to 54.8% from 27.4% in 3Q21. At the end of the third quarter, only 4.7% of all subscribers were provisioned for speeds of less than 50 Mbps, a reduction of more than 50% from the 3Q21 figure of 9.8%. Gigabit tier subscribers are up more than 600% since the third quarter of 2019, the report notes. “This trend is impacting bandwidth usage characteristics, with faster growth in power users and median bandwidth usage,” it adds. Other findings in the 3Q22 report include:
- Average monthly usage of 495.5 GB was up 13.9% from 3Q21’s average of 434.9 GB, and represented a slight increase over 2Q22’s 490.7 GB. Median broadband was up 14.3% year over year, representing broader growth across all subscribers.
- Year-over-year growth of power users of 1TB or more was 18%, to 13.7% of all subscribers, while the super power user category of consumers of 2 TB or more rose almost 50% during the same time frame.
- Participants in the American Connectivity Program consumed 615.2 GB of data in 3Q22, 24% more than the 495.5 used by the general population.
A recent article about Silicon Valley residents who formed a co-op Internet service provider might have people wondering what it would take to get the same thing in their hometowns. The most obvious obstacle is the price—in Los Altos Hills, California, residents have had to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $12,000 upfront for a fiber-to-the-home Internet connection. But the company that built the Los Altos Hills network says its model isn't just for wealthy people. "This is not the 1 percent solution, as people derisively call it to my face," Next Level Networks CEO David Barron said. "Los Altos Hills was unique." When Next Level builds a local network, the residents own the infrastructure and split the upfront costs. Residents themselves take care of finding potential customers, and installation begins once enough people sign up. "Our first customers were wealthy because they were motivated and willing to take a risk," Barron said. But the per-resident costs will be "much less expensive" elsewhere, particularly for multi-unit buildings or homeowner associations where houses are close together, he said. Next Level designs each network, installs fiber, arranges for backhaul, and provides Internet service. The networks are open-access, so other entities could offer broadband over the same wires. Barron also thinks Next Level's model can work in low-income areas, with government subsidies. "There are incentives that can be created for building owners to install these networks in low-income housing or lower-income housing... there are lots of programs from government entities to subsidize broadband costs," he said.
Gigabit passive optical network (GPON, if you're scoring at home) is a great technology. It is the predominant technology in place that is delivering fiber last mile broadband. GPON quickly became popular because it allowed the provisioning of a gigabit service to customers. A GPON link delivers 2.4 GB downstream and 1.2 GB upstream to serve up to 64 customers, although most networks I’ve seen don’t deliver to more than 32 customers. The biggest long-term advantage of GPON is that the technology serves more customers than active Ethernet, and most of the R&D for last-mile fiber over the past decade has gone to PON (passive optical network) technology. There are a few interesting benefits of GPON versus active Ethernet. One of the most important is the ability to serve multiple customers on a single feeder fiber. PON has one laser at a hub talking to 32 or more customers. This means a lot less fiber is needed in the network. The other advantage of PON that providers like is that there are no active electronics in the network – electronics are only at hubs and at the customer. That’s a lot fewer components to go bad and fewer repairs to make in the field. We’re now seeing most new fiber designs using XGS-PON. This technology increases bandwidth and delivers a symmetrical 10-GB path to a neighborhood. The technology can serve up to 256 customers on a fiber, although most providers will serve fewer than that. The biggest advantage of XGS-PON is that the electronics vendors have all gotten smarter, and XGS-PON is being designed as an overlay onto GPON networks. A provider can slip an XGS-PON card into an existing GPON chassis and instantly provision customers with faster broadband. The faster speeds just require an upgraded ONT (optical network terminal) – the electronics at the customer location. I’m sure GPON will be around for years to come. But as happens with all technology upgrades, there will probably come a day when the vendors stop supporting old GPON cards and ONTs.
In the weeks since Elon Musk took over the platform, his erratic leadership and bewildering choices have alienated many of Twitter’s power users, a core crop of whom are part of the American political establishment. But leaving a communications channel that’s become central to how Washington works won’t be easy. Washington takes Twitter very seriously. Twitter is a place where all the worlds that make up Washington — the politicians, the policy experts, the press, academics, activists, and others — gather. And in an increasingly remote age, Twitter does much of the work that physical meeting spaces once did in Washington. For a city that never stops feasting on work, Twitter “is a bottomless bowl of soup,” says Margaret O’Mara, chair of American history at the University of Washington, where she studies the overlap of politics and tech. And using Twitter well is a bit of a superpower, one that the American political class is loath to give up without a fight.
Society has long fretted about technology’s impact on youth. The hyperconnected nature of social media has led to new anxieties, including worries that these platforms may be negatively impacting teenagers’ mental health. Despite these concerns, teens themselves paint a more nuanced picture of adolescent life on social media. It is one in which majorities credit these platforms with deepening connections and providing a support network when they need it, while smaller – though notable – shares acknowledge the drama and pressures that can come along with using social media. Eight-in-ten teens say that what they see on social media makes them feel more connected to what’s going on in their friends’ lives, while 71% say it makes them feel like they have a place where they can show their creative side. And 67% say these platforms make them feel as if they have people who can support them through tough times. A smaller share – though still a majority – says the same for feeling more accepted. These positive sentiments are expressed by teens across demographic groups. When asked about the overall impact of social media on them personally, more teens say its effect has been mostly positive (32%) than say it has been mostly negative (9%). The largest share describes its impact in neutral terms: 59% believe social media has had neither a positive nor a negative effect on them. For teens who view social media’s effect on them as mostly positive, many describe maintaining friendships, building connections, or accessing information as the main reasons they feel this way. Additionally, surveys show the following:
- Teens are more likely to view social media as having a negative effect on others than themselves,
- Teens reflect on parents’ concerns and assessments of teen life on social media,
- Teens who have a more positive outlook about social media are more likely to say these platforms benefit them,
- Online activism is not common on social media among teens; only a minority of teens are highly concerned about digital privacy,
- Teens feel a lack of control over their personal data but aren’t too concerned about social media companies having this information.
Onondaga County (NY) has selected Verizon to deploy broadband in several communities in this Central New York area. With $11.1 million in funding provided as part of the American Rescue plan (ARPA) and a nearly $7 million dollar investment from Verizon, almost $18 million will be spent on bringing all-fiber, high-speed broadband services to over 1,500 locations in the county. Verizon’s bid was supported by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Verizon will leverage its supplier relationships to meet the goals set by Onondaga County related to Minority/Women-owned Business Enterprises (MWBE). Anticipated suppliers include New York-based Corning Incorporated and Onondaga County-based Right Price Companies (RPC technology), which are expected to supply Verizon with fiber optics cable and other materials.
Lumen Technologies is expanding its residential and small business fiber internet service, Quantum Fiber, in more than 30 cities and metro areas in the US. Quantum Fiber is a subscription-based, prepaid, online platform for delivering secure, premier fiber-based connectivity to residents and small businesses. Local Quantum Fiber teams are working on expansions in the following cities and surrounding metro areas: Albuquerque, NM, Boise, ID, Bozeman, MO, Cheyenne, WY, Denver and Colorado Springs, CO, Des Moines, IA, Fort Myers, Ocala, Orlando, and Tallahassee FL, Las Vegas, NV, Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN, Omaha, NE, Portland, OR, Salt Lake City, UT, Seattle and Spokane, WA, and Phoenix and Tucson, AZ.
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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