71% of Americans want Google, Facebook, Amazon to help pay for broadband — Entner

Roger Entner

Americans overwhelmingly think that broadband should be available to every American and that the funding base to achieve that should be broadened to every company that makes money through the internet, according to a new survey from Recon Analytics.

Between March 16 and March 26, 2021, Recon Analytics conducted a demographically representative survey of 1,000 Americans using the internet and cell phones, asking them about their opinions and attitudes around universal access, funding mechanisms, conduct and usage.

More than 78% of respondents agreed that broadband internet should be available to every American showing broad support from large parts of the population. But when looking a bit closer, the answers given by respondents who say they have broadband versus those who don't have broadband (26%) differed. Only 64% of those who who do not have what they consider broadband think that every American should have it. This indicates that there is not only an availability and affordability gap but also an educational gap. Many people who don’t have broadband internet access either do not want it or do not understand why they should have it. These findings, which are mirrored in other studies, indicate that any broadband infrastructure program should include an educational component to increase the number of broadband subscribers. Otherwise, broadband penetration will never reach its full potential.

Work from home

As we found in previous surveys on the topic, around 54% of respondents use the internet for work purposes from home. This is equal to the number of employees that are classified as white-collar employees by the U.S. Department of Labor. This number highlights the importance of broadband for the functioning of American businesses and enterprises during the continuing pandemic. It is likely that the added agility and flexibility to work from home will continue to be utilized after the country has emerged from the pandemic restrictions.

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We also found similar opinions around what Americans consider broadband. The median American considers 50/5 Mbps as broadband, whereas the most answered response was Gigabit speed with 29% of respondents.

The high percentage of Americans who think broadband should be available to everyone is probably based on the intensive usage and the need of many Americans to use it from home to work. Using the weighted average of the responses, Americans spend around six hours every day on the internet.

Entner Chart

When looking at those who also use the internet from to work from home, unsurprisingly the usage pattern is significantly heavier as their usage pattern includes both business and leisure activities.

While only 37% of respondents knew that the Lifeline Program provides low-income Americans with basic phone and internet service, they were open to new funding sources to close the digital divide.

More than 71% of Americans think that companies with business models that rely solely on the internet to exist and who also generate revenue from those businesses, like Google and Facebook, should also contribute to provide access to Americans who currently do not have access to the internet. Such a move would dramatically expand the funding sources for a broadband access plan and include companies that have received the most value and profits from the internet.

Net neutrality

What is really interesting, the survey also found support to extend net neutrality rules to websites and e-commerce companies.

We framed questions around the net neutrality principles of no blocking, no throttling speeds, and no paid prioritization by asking Americans if websites like Google, Facebook or Amazon should be allowed to restrict access to legal sites, give preference to their own products and services over others and change the search results based on how much money they receive from others.

More than 72% of Americans are against companies like Facebook or Google restricting access to legal sites for any reason. This is exactly the behavior that Facebook showed when it made it impossible to link from Facebook to news sites in Australia (and for a short time to itself) to avoid having to compensate news sites linked to. In essence, it was a commercial and legislative conflict where Facebook wanted to use its customer base as a bargaining chip in its negotiations. This is the essence of the “No Blocking” rule in net neutrality.

More than 55% of Americans believe companies like Amazon, Google or Facebook should not be allowed to give preference to their own products and services over that of others, a self-dealing practice that has cost Google more than $10 billion in fines by the European Union. Search engines like Amazon, Google and Facebook, all of which provide you with what you are looking for, are increasingly the prism through which we see the world. They have incredible power over our perception of what it is we are actually looking for. By pushing competing products into the obscurity of lower-ranked results, they, in essence, throttle the success of other products that are better but do not fit the commercial objective of the search engine provider.

In terms of pay-to-play result manipulation, more than 80% of Americans say they are against search engines altering results based on how much websites and advertisers pay for preferential positioning. It is common that the first view search results for a given term are occupied by responses that are marked by the easily missed word “Ad” in front of the link. This effectively operates as paid prioritization, something the ISPs are not allowed to do under California’s net neutrality law, nor under earlier versions of net neutrality that the Democrats might be considering reinstating.

The results of our survey showcase two key points: Americans are open to reigning in tech giants, who solely rely on the internet to generate revenue, and curbing their ongoing uncompetitive behavior, and having these companies contribute part of said revenues to subsidize access to broadband for low-income Americans.

While the Biden Administration focuses on proposing ideas that have been tried and tested, perhaps it should take a step back and listen to consumers, whom the administration ought to serve and prioritize.

RELATED: Biden targets $100B for universal broadband access in $2T plan

While we all agree that the United States needs more broadband and net neutrality, most Americans do not support the Biden administration’s plan. The majority of Americans want internet companies to pay their share to build the broadband network that these companies are profiting from. They also want to be protected from the demonstrated behavior of internet-based companies that violate the net neutrality rules that these companies want to impose on other companies but not themselves.

Net neutrality rules need to protect consumers. Any net neutrality rules that do not apply to internet service providers and internet companies like search engines, social media companies, and e-commerce providers is just cleverly disguised corporate welfare with the government picking winners and losers.

Here are the full results of our survey:

Do you believe that access to broadband internet should be available to every American?

Yes 78.2%    No 21.8%

Did you know that the government requires a small portion of your phone bill to be used to fund phone service for low-income Americans aka lifeline service?

No 62.9%      Yes 37.1%

Do you think companies like Google and Facebook that make money through the internet should contribute to provide access for Americans who do not have the internet?

Yes 71.4%     No 28.6%

Should companies like Google or Facebook be allowed to restrict access to legal sites for any reason?

No 72.7%      Yes 27.3%

Should companies like Amazon, Google or Facebook be allowed to give preference to their own products and services?

No 55.8%      Yes 44.2%

Should search engines be allowed to alter search results based on how much money they receive from websites or advertisers?

No 80.6%.     Yes 19.4%

How would you define broadband internet access in terms of Mbps?

3/1 9.3%                     10/1 9%

25/3 14.8%                 50/5 17.3%

100/10 20.9%             Gigabit 28.8%

Do you currently have broadband internet access?

Yes 74.2%       No 25.8%

Does your job require internet access at home?

Yes 53.4%        No 46.6%

How much time per day do you spend on the internet (via your mobile device or on your computer?)

Less than an hour 10.9%         2-4 hours 26.4%

4-6 hours 20.4%                       6-8 hours 17.6%

8-12 hours 16.0%                     More than 12 hours 8.7%

Roger Entner is the founder and analyst at Recon Analytics. He received an honorary doctor of science degree from Heriot-Watt University. Recon Analytics specializes in fact-based research and the analysis of disparate data sources to provide unprecedented insights into the world of telecommunications. Follow Roger on Twitter @rogerentner.

"Industry Voices" are opinion columns written by outside contributors—often industry experts or analysts—who are invited to the conversation by Fierce staff. They do not represent the opinions of Fierce.