A Consumers Union analysis of more than 22,000 personal Internet service bills, including Wisconsin bills, found that many of the documents disguised the true cost of the service and included “garbage charges” to increase the amount owed.
According to Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine, Wisconsinites paid an average of $75 a month, not including bundled services like cable TV. This amount corresponded to the national average.
Company-imposed fees that appear to be required by the government but are not are sometimes added to a bill by more than $10. The fees allow ISPs to raise prices without appearing to violate marketing or contractual pricing obligations.
Consumers Union found that more than a dozen internet service providers included “garbage fees” in their bills under names like “network improvement fee, internet infrastructure fee, deregulated management fee, and technology service fee.”
The description might say that the fees are not required by the government.
“But the way these fees are shown on invoices often gives the false impression that they are imposed by government regulation or taxation, when instead they are often routine input costs that can be deducted only at the provider’s discretion from the price of the service Main performance to be distinguished,” Consumers Union said. “Such fees do consumers a disservice by dulling the true price of broadband.”
A wide range of fees can account for a significant portion of the overall cost of the service.
“Individual fees directly related to Internet service typically ranged from $2.49 to $9.95 per month in our sample. It is often difficult to determine whether these charges are associated with broadband or other elements of a service package. Some of these fees, like the cost of renting a modem or wireless router from the provider, are avoidable, but most are not,” Consumers Union said.
Modem fees are no longer allowed
Until recently, some ISPs charged for the modems they provided, even if a customer used their own device instead.
Those fees are no longer legal, said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy council and manager of special projects at Consumers Union.
Some service providers charge a fee for increased speed performance, e.g. B. An additional $20 per month for a “speed boost”.
“We have treated this cost as part of the base internet price to accurately reflect what the consumer is paying for the service received,” said Consumers Union.
Consumers Union received bills from all 50 states and the District of Columbia that were voluntarily submitted by subscribers to the Internet service. Personal data was deleted as part of the Broadband Together project, conducted in collaboration with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and a handful of other newspapers.
More than 500 bills were received from Wisconsin. Nationwide, nearly 86% were from urban areas.
Competition improves speed, lowers prices
Studies have shown that prices are lower and speeds are higher in areas where two or more ISPs are competing for subscribers.
However, Consumers Union found many instances of download speeds routinely not matching advertised speeds that people might expect.
“This was especially true for users who paid for premium plans, which claimed to offer download speeds of ‘up to’ between 940 and 1,200 megabits per second, which actually reported average speeds of between 360 and 373 Mbps,” it said in the analysis.
The deregulation of the telecommunications industry through legislative changes and court decisions has reduced the ability of state and federal agencies to hold service providers accountable to customers.
Last year, Congress ordered the Federal Communications Commission to develop and implement a standardized consumer broadband “nutrition” label with the goal of achieving greater price transparency and consistency in pricing Internet services.
Consumers Union said the label could help solve some of the billing issues identified in its analysis because it would require clear disclosure of pricing information, discounts, fees and internet performance.
However, the FCC may not require the label to appear on every monthly broadband bill. And if it only shows up on websites and marketing materials, many current customers may never see it.
“The same could be the case if the label is buried in fine print or merely hyperlinked,” Consumers Union said.
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