Rural Assembly Joins Coalition to Fight For Affordable, Equitable Internet

Let's Broadband Together is a people-powered research project working to improve access to the internet — and rural participation is critical

The Rural Assembly is joining with Consumer Reports and a broad coalition of partners to launch Let’s Broadband Together, a first-of-its-kind project to find out what people really pay  — and what they are really getting — for their internet service.

“Broadband access is one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our time,” said Rural Assembly Director Whitney Kimball Coe. “For too long, rural places and Native communities have been on the losing end of the digital divide, unable to fully participate in the economic, social, and cultural forces shaping our world today.”

Consumer Reports is asking consumers to share their monthly internet bills so its researchers can analyze the cost, quality, and speeds that are being delivered to people in communities across the United States. CR’s Digital Lab has created a web tool at broadbandtogether.org to gather and analyze the data. 

The findings from this major initiative will help Consumer Reports in its effort to press internet service providers and government officials to deliver greater access to fair, affordable, reliable internet services. 

The coalition hopes to gather 30,000 internet bills from across the country.  By comparing the consumer bills, researchers will be able to create benchmarks around the cost of service and understand how and why prices vary. 

“The best data we have about who has internet and how much they pay for it comes from providers themselves, rather than consumers,” Kimball Coe said. “The Let’s Broadband Together Project brings a new level of transparency to the digital divide we know exists in our country.”

The White House has proposed a plan to spend $100 billion to boost broadband access and affordability, and members of Congress have proposed the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA Act).  While these actions are promising, they will take years to fully go into effect, if they are enacted.

“The Rural Assembly is excited to partner on the Let’s Broadband Together project to drive greater transparency and accountability around achieving quality, high-speed and affordable internet,” Kimball Coe said. 

How to Participate 

To participate, consumers will need an internet bill, an internet connection so researchers can test their speeds, and answer a few questions about their broadband service.

The Rural Assembly is calling on its partners and friends to participate and to encourage participation throughout their rural communities. 

“Rural people need to be represented in this data,” Kimball Coe said. “We have an opportunity to truly see how much rural people pay for broadband and what they are truly getting.” 

In a recent CR survey, 76 percent of Americans say that internet service is as important as electricity and running water in today’s world, and 86% say they rely on the internet at least five days a week.

Why it matters now 

Over the past 15 months, the pandemic has forced Americans to work online, enter classrooms remotely and stay connected with family and friends through broadband internet service. In rural communities in particular, this has revealed the serious challenge that millions of Americans face every day when it comes to getting broadband. 

Many consumers can be charged more based on where they live. People get stuck with slow speeds and poor quality of service because of a lack of competition in their community. Some consumers spend more money for less service, thanks to confusing pricing, and too many people simply cannot get online because there is no service where they live, or they cannot afford it.

“The internet is not a luxury — it’s a necessity,” said Marta Tellado, president and chief executive officer of Consumer Reports.  “Broadband must be available, accessible, and affordable for all, including low-income households and rural areas. For too long, the true cost and quality of internet service has been hidden and obscured. We want to shine a light on what’s really happening, so every American can have the quality internet they need to succeed today and into the future.” 

Rural Assembly is one of 40 organizations across the country that have partnered together for this critical initiative. The Broadband Together steering committee includes Access Now, American Library Association, Amerind, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, BroadbandNow, Color of Change, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, mLab, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, Rural Assembly, Southern California Tribal Chairmen’s Association, and The X-Lab @ PSU.

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

For more information about the Rural Assembly’s participation in Let’s Broadband Together and how your community can participate, please contact Whitney Kimball Coe at whitney@ruralstrategies.org. 

 

About the Rural Assembly 

The Rural Assembly is a movement of people and organizations building a smarter, greener, more inclusive rural America. By amplifying rural voices and leadership, the Rural Assembly ensures that rural people and places are actively shaping a more inclusive nation. The Rural Assembly is a program of The Center for Rural Strategies. The Assembly has a long history of convening rural leaders and practitioners. Led by Whitney Kimball Coe, The Rural Assembly also draws on the expertise of strategic advisers from across rural America. 

 

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