Does anyone in the United States actually like their internet service provider (ISP)? If new research is anything to go off of, the answer is probably no. The results from a first-of-its-kind nationwide ISP study were published Thursday, and in what will come as a surprise to absolutely no one reading this site, consumers' reliance on this modern necessity is being widely exploited.
Consumer Reports, an independent nonprofit research organization best known for its product reviews, launched its Fight for Fair Internet study in July 2021. At its core, the study sought to publicize what Americans pay for internet service and (more importantly) what their money actually gets them. We'll avoid any fanfare here: Things aren't great. After analyzing more than 22,000 internet bills from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, Consumer Reports found that arbitrary pricing and other disturbing practices are commonplace. Worse, the magazine found this to be true across many of the 526 domestic ISPs examined during the study—including all 26 of the largest providers, which cover more than 90 percent of the country's services.
One anonymized AT&T bill from the published study illustrates how consumers are issued discounts seemingly at random and without information on how to keep the discount. The bill shows that the customer was given two $10 discounts on their original bill of $80: One for bundling and another for "loyalty." Most of us appreciate a good discount, but without any explanation as to what "loyalty" involves—was the customer made aware of the discount? Is the discount permanent?—it's difficult to compare pricing with other ISPs, which stymies competition.
Some ISPs even use these arbitrary discounts to make it appear as though their customers are getting a better deal when they actually aren't. More than half of the AT&T and Verizon bills Consumer Reports analyzed included some sort of discount, while Google Fiber bills never did...even though some Google Fiber customers paid lower prices for the same level of service.
[...] "The unavoidable fees are especially problematic because consumers may believe they are government-imposed when, in fact, many are company-imposed and distinguished from the core service price at the provider's discretion," Consumer Reports said. "They can surprise consumers when they appear on monthly bills, and can enable providers to raise prices without seeming to violate marketing or contractual price commitments."
ISPs often boast higher speeds than their competitors'—a factor that increasingly weighs on consumers' minds as more people work and attend school online. But many of these companies regularly fail to provide the megabits per second (Mbps) promised in ads and service agreements. This is particularly the case for consumers who pay extra for "premium" plans, who reportedly receive less than half the download speed they're paying for. Consumers who subscribed to plans promising 940 to 1,200Mbps often end up receiving median speeds of between 360 and 373Mbps.