Heard of the EFCA? – National Consumers League

If you haven’t, and you are lucky enough to have a job (in this crazy economy), you might want to read this.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a piece of legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 but didn’t make it through the Senate. It’s expected to be re-introduced in the next Congress, the 111th, and it’s recently been given a major shout-out by consumer groups including the National Consumers League.

Last week, NCL and six other consumer interest groups (Public Citizen, NACA, Consumer Action, ACORN, Alliance for Justice, and Consumers for Auto Safety and Reliability) sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to support the EFCA, legislation that we believe would “strengthen consumer protections, stop predatory lending practices, and ensure that workers’ hard-earned wages go to supporting their families and communities.”

NCL supports the EFCA because looking out for workers’ rights and concerns is a central part of our founding mission of more than 100 years ago. To learn more about why we support the legislation, read the  letter to Congress here.

Consumer groups call on Congress to support Employee Free Choice Act and help rebuild the middle class – National Consumers League

December 19, 2008

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC, December 19, 2008 — A coalition of seven consumer groups today announced their support for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), expected to be reintroduced in 111thCongress, to “strengthen consumer protections, stop predatory lending practices, provide remedies, and ensure that workers’ hard earned wages go to supporting their families and communities.”

In a letter to members of Congress, the groups — the National Consumers League (www.nclnet.org), the National Association of Consumer Advocates (www.naca.org), Public Citizen  (www.citizen.org), Consumer Action (www.consumer-action.org), ACORN (www.acorn.org), Consumers for Auto Safety and Reliability (www.carconsumers.com), and the Alliance for Justice (www.afj.org) — argued that the EFCA (H.R. 800, S. 1041 in the 110th Congress) legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 but failed to pass in the Senate, and is broadly supported by labor unions, is good for both consumers and workers.

“Corporate greed, mass foreclosures, insurmountable consumer debt, unemployment rates, and the other symptoms of our economic crisis have made for a culture of insecurity for both consumers and workers,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of National Consumers League, a consumer group formed in 1899 to advance the interests of both consumers and workers. “As consumer organizations, we believe that it is essential to make connections between consumers and workers, especially in this economic downturn. It is in the interest of consumers to rebuild the middle class in America, and the Employee Free Choice Act is a good start. It is time for Congress to address the needs of the hardworking Americans on Main Street, not just the corporate interests on Wall Street.”

In their letter to Congress, the consumer groups argued that EFCA will help restore fairness to workers by giving them a path to union organizing, helping secure contracts in reasonable timeframes, and toughening penalties of companies who violate worker rights.

Excerpts from the letter follow:

The Employee Free Choice Act will restore the right of workers to join together to get better health care, job security, and benefits – and an opportunity to pursue their dreams. We firmly believe the Employee Free Choice Act is good for consumers, for workers, and for American society. When workers – who are also consumers – enjoy the benefits of a unionized workforce, their standard of living rises and they can participate more fully in what our economic system has to offer.

The current crisis in our financial markets shows what happens when corporate greed is allowed to go unchecked – and consumers and workers unfortunately pay the price.  The Employee Free Choice Act will help level the playing field for America’s workers by giving them a fair and direct path to form unions. Consumer groups ask for your support for this important legislation.

The Employee Free Choice Act will help restore fairness and the American dream by:

(1) Giving workers a fair and direct path to form unions through majority sign-up. EFCA would require an employer to recognize its employees’ union when a majority has signed union authorization cards.  Under current law, management can refuse to recognize a union even when 100 percent of employees have signed authorization cards.  After a majority of workers have signed cards, an employer can still call for a separate election.  Under the current system, then, the employer gets to decide whether a separate election is necessary.

(2) Helping employees secure a contract with their employer in a reasonable period of time. Under current law, anti-union employers often drag workers through lengthy negotiations by delaying bargaining sessions, withholding relevant information, and putting forth bogus proposals.  Even though these tactics are illegal, there are no effective deterrents to prevent “surface bargaining.” The Employee Free Choice Act will strengthen workers’ ability to achieve a first contract within a reasonable period of time.

(3) Toughening penalties against employers who violate their workers’ rights. Too many unscrupulous employers get away with breaking labor laws because the current penalties are too weak.  The Employee Free Choice Act would increase penalties against employers who illegally fire or retaliate against pro-union workers.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

VA LifeSmarts Making Headlines! – National Consumers League

We’re well into our 15th season of LifeSmarts, NCL’s awesome, competitive program that teaches teens (and now middle school students too!) real-life consumer skills. Our Internet-based, quiz-style format has been lighting up classrooms and after-school teams for the last few months, and many state programs are preparing to host their in-person competitions in the next couple months. In fact, the early bird state of New Jersey has already determined what team will represent their state at the 2009 National LifeSmarts Championship in St. Louis, April 25-28: the team from John P. Stevens High School in Edison, NJ.

This just in: today we ran across this article in The Roanoke Times about the Virginia state LifeSmarts program. The article includes a great quote from the Virginia State Coordinator, Celia Ray Hayhoe, who organizes the program in her role as a Virginia Cooperative Extension family resource management specialist at Virginia Tech:

“With LifeSmarts, teens learn to avoid common consumer pitfalls, navigate government, and understand credit-card jargon before they sign the dotted line,” said Hayhoe.

It’s true! LifeSmarts teaches teens how to be a savvy consumer before they have to learn those lessons the hard way, like many of their parents’ generation has. What better time than now to be giving our youngest generation of consumers a leg-up, eh?

Consumer/health groups call for change in regulation of alcohol labeling – National Consumers League

December 12, 2008

Letter to Treasury Secretary-Designate Timothy Geithner urges swift action to mandate standardized, comprehensive alcohol labels

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC; December 12, 2008 — Even as the Obama Administration sets its sights on stabilizing and strengthening the U.S. economy, a coalition of public interest groups today called on the transition team and incoming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to move quickly on another matter where action by the Treasury Department is needed and long overdue: requiring mandatory, basic serving facts disclosing alcohol content per serving and the definition of moderate, or low-risk alcohol consumption on all alcoholic beverage labels.

In a letter to Secretary-Designate Geithner, four leading public interest groups — Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League and Shape Up America! — used the fifth anniversary of an unanswered petition originally sent to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) on December 16, 2003 to press for “meaningful change” in how the Treasury Department regulates alcohol labeling. Summarizing a record of more than 30 years of inaction by TTB and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the organizations reported overwhelming public support for a standardized “Alcohol Facts” panel on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products listing such basic information as the serving size, calories per serving, alcohol content per serving, and the definition of a “standard drink.” Additionally, the petition sought the inclusion of the Dietary Guidelines’ definition of moderate, or low-risk, alcohol consumption on product labels. Today, alcoholic beverages are the only major category of consumable products not required to carry label information summarizing these basic characteristics of the product.

“Right now, consumers really have no way of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. “It’s time to end the confusion by giving Americans the same helpful and easily accessible labeling information that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.”

George Hacker, Director of CSPI’s Alcohol Policies Project, called on TTB, which regulates alcohol labeling, to develop labels that will be helpful to consumers in measuring and moderating their alcohol consumption. “The Food and Drug Administration, which has administered the development of comprehensive nutrition labeling on foods and non-alcoholic beverages, has substantial expertise in constructing and designing labels that consumers will understand and use. TTB should consult with FDA and rely on its experience in generating effective consumer labels.”

Documenting the public health need for TTB action, the letter summarizes the consensus among nutrition, medical and substance abuse experts that ready access to labeling information is an important tool for reducing alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and the many diseases attributable to excessive alcohol intake. This includes the facts needed to follow the Dietary Guidelines’ advice that men who choose to drink limit their consumption to two drinks a day and that women restrict their consumption to one drink per day. As stated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, the consumption of alcoholic beverages may have beneficial effects for some consumers when consumed in moderation, but alcohol is a significant source of calories and can increase the risk for hypertension, liver disease and certain cancers, as well as injury if consumed in excess.

“There is no debate within the public health and nutrition community about the need for mandatory and complete alcohol labeling,” said Dr. Barbara J. Moore, President and CEO of Shape Up America! “Today’s labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages are outdated and they don’t demonstrate the national leadership that is critically needed to address the growing epidemic of obesity.”

Due to the current lack of leadership, the organizations point to one of the consequences of not requiring consistent and comprehensive alcohol labeling: most Americans have no idea what constitutes a “standard drink,” which the Dietary Guidelines defines as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine and 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof (40 percent) distilled spirits. According to a recent survey commissioned by the National Consumers League, 54 percent of Americans don’t know there is such a thing as a “standard drink,” even though a large majority of state drivers’ license manuals and national and state public health agencies use the “standard drink” definition to explain responsible drinking.

“It shouldn’t take a calculator for consumers to tell how many ‘standard drinks’ are in a particular product or to determine how much alcohol they are actually consuming,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “On behalf of the nation’s public health and nutrition organizations, consumer advocates, leading public health officials and consumers themselves, we say it is time for the government to issue a useful final regulation requiring alcohol labeling.”

While continuing to press for a useful final regulation on alcohol labeling, the four public interest organizations are taking steps to fill the void by providing consumers with information about alcohol content and what constitutes moderate drinking. Especially during the holidays, Americans should have these facts:

  • When it comes to drinking alcohol, the old adage is true: It doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s really how much that counts. Don’t kid yourself into thinking beer or wine is “safer” or less “potent” than the “hard stuff.”
  • One of the most important tips about responsible drinking is to know how much you are drinking. So, remember, 12 ounces of regular beer has the same amount of alcohol as five ounces of wine and an ounce and a half of distilled spirits.
  • Alcohol affects women differently than men. Besides producing less of the enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol, women generally have a lower percentage of natural body water than men, which means alcohol levels are more concentrated and women are likely to feel the effects (including the onset of alcohol-related diseases) sooner. In light of these differences, the Dietary Guidelines recommends that women consume less alcohol — up to one standard drink a day while men are advised to limit their consumption to two alcohol drinks a day
  • Sometimes the wisest decision is not to drink. This is the case if you are younger than the minimum legal drinking age, pregnant, driving or operating machinery, or simply cannot control your drinking.
    In many cases, alcohol and medications don’t mix. Always read the label to determine if the prescription medicine or over-the-counter drug carries a specific warning about consuming alcohol. If you are hosting a party, don’t over-serve alcohol and keep an eye out for anyone who may have had too much to drink and is planning to drive home. If necessary, take their keys and call a taxi. Have plenty of non-alcoholic beverage choices available.
  • The obvious tip that everybody knows but sometimes forgets: before you go out, plan how you are going to get home. Designate a driver, have a taxi number, and have money ready to pay the taxi. Whatever you do, don’t drink and drive and plan on staying sober.Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, don’t serve to or buy alcohol for people under 21.
    Increasing public understanding of these basic health messages also requires ending the stalemate in modernizing beverage alcohol labels, which traces back to 1972, when consumer organizations first asked the federal government to require meaningful alcohol labeling. In 2003, the National Consumers League joined with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America and 75 other public health and consumer organizations to submit a formal petition to TTB. This resulted in the agency issuing an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” in April 2005 and receiving more than 18,000 comments, of which 96 percent supported giving consumers access to standardized and complete labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits labels.

TTB’s most recent action occurred in 2007 when the agency proposed a mandatory “Serving Facts” panel on beer, wine and distilled spirits but notably ignored the most important information consumers need when consuming an alcoholic beverage – alcohol content disclosure and the amount of alcohol in a serving. This resulted in another barrage of letters from consumers and public health leaders, all calling for more complete information on the label. Since the close of the public comment period in February 2008, TTB has not moved forward with issuing final regulations.


About the Center for Science in the Public Interest

Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science. Founded by executive director Michael Jacobson, Ph.D. and two other scientists, CSPI has long sought to educate the public, advocate government policies that are consistent with scientific evidence on health and environmental issues, and counter industry’s powerful influence on public opinion and public policies.

About the Consumer Federation of America

Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of some 300 organizations, with a combined membership of over 50 million Americans. Since its founding in 1968, CFA has worked to advance the interest of American consumers through research, education and advocacy.  CFA’s Food Policy Institute was created in 1999 and engages in research, education and advocacy on food and agricultural policy, agricultural biotechnology, food safety and nutrition.

About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

About Shape Up America!

Shape Up America! was founded in 1994 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to raise awareness of the health effects of obesity and to provide responsible information on weight management to the public and to health care professionals. The organization maintains an award winning website – www.shapeup.org – accessed by more than 100,000 visitors each month and an “opt-in” e-newsletter with more than 24,000 subscribers.

Obesity survey: The disconnect between size and weight – National Consumers League

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 66 percent of U.S. adults are overweight (33 percent) or obese (33 percent) but, according to a new National Consumers League study conducted by Harris Interactive®, only 12 percent of U.S. adults say they have ever been told by a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional that they are obese. 

Following the recent announcement by RAND Corporation, which notes that the prevalence of American adults who are classified with severe or morbid obesity is increasing at a much faster rate than the prevalence of moderate obesity, the National Consumers League today is releasing troubling new survey data about consumers’ misconceptions about their weight and knowledge of weight-loss options. NCL is also announcing new Web resources for consumers who may need to lose weight but don’t know where to begin the daunting process.The survey of 1,978 adult Americans, was conducted online by Harris Interactive from March 6th to 12th, 2007. NCL has launched a new consumer education campaign, “Choose to Lose”. The new materials available at www.nclnet.org/obesity aim to help consumers overcome the overwhelming task of honestly evaluating their individual weight and work with their doctor to do something about it.

‘Obesity’: Not Admitted by Most

NCL’s new survey found a startling disconnect between the way people perceive their weight, and their actual weight category based on the body mass index (BMI), the most common measurement for obesity. U.S. adults were much more likely to refer to themselves as “overweight” rather than “obese”, and consistently identified themselves as being in less severely overweight groups.  In fact, 52 percent of respondents referred to themselves as overweight, and only 12 percent as obese, severely obese, or morbidly obese. But, based on actual BMI calculations using self-reported height and weight information, among the 96 percent of respondents who reported height and weight, 35 percent are actually “overweight,” whereas 34 percent are actually obese, severely obese, or morbidly obese. Among respondents who are obese according to BMI, 82 percent consider themselves to be simply “overweight.” Alarmingly, only a minority of all respondents (20 percent) claimed to know their BMI number.

“This discrepancy between perceived and actual weight categories suggests that the stigma associated with being obese is a powerful one; many consumers would benefit from a more realistic picture of their own weight,” said NCL President Linda Golodner. “We wanted to find out how consumers feel about their weight, their health, their need to lose pounds, and the stigma surrounding treatment options. We found that while many consumers view obesity as a legitimate disease, they don’t want to identify themselves as ‘obese.’ Weight is a highly personalized, complicated issue, and many overweight and obese consumers are in need of help.”

Perceptions about Obesity: Real Disease, Real Treatment, Real Stigma

Despite the commonly held view that obesity is a serious disease, significant levels of cultural bias persist. Most respondents (78 percent) say that obesity is a serious, chronic disease and that it requires medical treatment (54 percent). Most U.S. adults (61 percent) report, however, that obesity is considered taboo in society today, and half (50 percent) attribute the condition to a “lack of will power.” More than a third of U.S. adults (37 percent) agree that obese people should pay more for health insurance, and more than a quarter (27 percent) say that it is still acceptable to make fun of obesity. And, although many U.S. adults were accepting of many different types of treatment (more below), ranging from diet and exercise to acupuncture, there are still some negatives associated with certain options. For example, although 79 percent of respondents say weight-loss surgery can be a life-saving treatment, half (49 percent) agree that there is a stigma associated with using surgery as a weight-loss option. Moreover, forty-seven percent held a very negative or somewhat negative view of weight-loss surgery.

“There is a serious disconnect between an individual’s perception of both what it means to be overweight and the health risks of carrying extra pounds. While many consumers know that weight loss can improve the illnesses associated with excess weight, they do not have the information to separate unsubstantiated weight-loss claims from evidence-based strategies to support their weight-loss efforts,” said Madelyn H. Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, Associate Professor and founding Director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Consumers need accurate information about the lifestyle changes they need to make to not only lose weight, but keep it off. Lifestyle change is the foundation of successful weight loss, but other treatment options, including prescription medications and surgery, can be added to help support—not replace—the lifestyle effort. When it comes to losing weight, one size does not fit all, and obesity treatment should be individually tailored, with careful consideration to both biological and behavioral factors.”

Personal Reflections on Weight & Weight Loss

According to findings, 64 percent of respondents are not happy with their current weight, and many say that more time to exercise (59 percent), better access to healthful foods (31 percent, and more time to cook and eat at home (31 percent) would help them achieve and maintain a healthier weight. More than three quarters (77 percent) of respondents have tried to lose weight at some point, and among these, 60 percent agree that it is one of the hardest things they have ever tried to do. Despite the attempts, many are unsuccessful at either losing weight or keeping it off. Less than a third (29 percent) of those who have ever tried to lose weight report being successful, and about a third (34 percent) have only been able to keep off the weight they lost for less than one year.

“I was fortunate to have a doctor tell me that I seriously needed to lose weight. But not all consumers who need that push from their healthcare professional get it,” said Peggy Kindler, a 51-year-old Pittsburgh, PA resident who has battled weight issues all her life. In the year since gastric banding surgery, Kindler has lost 53 pounds but continues to struggle with the challenges of weight-loss. “As someone who has experienced the very real benefits of losing a significant amount of weight, and being able to keep it off, I truly hope that these new materials for consumers at www.nclnet.org will help people recognize their weight problem, understand the weight-loss options available and motivate them to get help.”

Getting on Track for Weight Loss

About half (52 percent) of people say that they have talked about losing weight with their doctor, although respondents who are obese are more likely to have done so. Among those who have discussed weight loss with their doctor, nearly three in five (59 percent) report that their doctors recommended a diet change (47 percent) and/or exercise regimen (35 percent). However, only one third discussed the health risks associated with their weight, and only ten percent said their doctor helped them develop a plan to lose weight.

Of the weight-loss options other than regular diet and exercise discussed in the survey, respondents reported being most familiar with: organized weight loss programs (56 percent); over-the-counter medications (42 percent); weight-loss surgery (41 percent); and prescription medications (39 percent). Organized weight-loss plans also were perceived very or somewhat positively by most (69 percent) respondents, followed by counseling/psychiatry (55 percent), and intensive weight loss “camp” (45 percent). More than a third (38 percent) held a very positive or somewhat positive view of weight-loss surgery, while a third thought positively of prescription weight-loss medications (35 percent), acupuncture (34 percent), and hypnosis (33 percent).

About the Survey

The survey was conducted online within the United States from March 6 to 12, 2007 by Harris Interactive® on behalf of the National Consumers League among 1,978 adults aged 18+. According to BMI calculations out of this sample of 1,978, 25 are underweight, 528 are normal weight, 679 are overweight, 351 are obese, 164 are severely obese, 138 are morbidly obese. According to self-assessment 58 are underweight, 590 are normal weight, 1,032 are overweight, 180 are obese, 60 are severely obese, and 48 are morbidly obese. Figures for age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their respective total populations. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

With a pure probability sample of 1,978 adults one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results would have a sampling error of +/-5 percentage points would have a sampling error of +/-3 percentage points.  Sampling error for data from sub-samples may be higher and vary.  However, that does not take other sources of error into account. The online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

NCL thanks Allergan, Inc. for an unrestricted educational grant that made this survey and educational effort possible.



Get the Facts: Calling for Better Alcohol Labeling. Again. – National Consumers League

It’s been nearly 5 years to the day (Dec. 16, 2003) – how time flies! – since the National Consumers League first called on the federal government to get with it and do for beverages containing alcohol what it has done for other consumer products and create a standardized, mandatory labeling system. Over the years, consumers have grown to rely on Nutrition Facts and Drug Facts labels. A similar label for beverages containing alcohol seems like the next logical step, right?

An Alcohol Facts label, NCL and others have argued, would help consumers  make better decisions about their consumption of these beverages. It’s currently a bit of a mess, with alcohol content and other information difficult or impossible to find on some products. The new Alcohol Facts label would provide easy access to information about serving sizes, calories and carbohydrates, alcohol content, and more.

Seems like standardized labels on these beverages would be especially helpful this time of year, when many of us watching our waistlines wonder just what’s in that champagne, egg nog or mulled wine.

In a letter to the Department of the Treasury (the agency that redulates alcohol labeling – weird, huh?) Secretary-Designate Geithner, four leading public interest groups — Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, NCL, and Shape Up America! — are pressing for meaningful change in how the Department regulates alcohol labeling. Read our letter here.

Economic security, health and safety of nation: National groups call for adoption of pro-consumer policies – National Consumers League

December 11, 2008

Contact: 202-835-3323, media@nclnet.org

Washington, DC- Leaders of seven of the country’s leading public-interest groups are calling for the adoption of six major pro-consumer priorities, including the reinstatement of the White House Special Advisor on Consumer Affairs. As the economic crisis deepens, it is more important than ever for government leaders to deal quickly and effectively with pocketbook issues affecting every American consumer. The groups have developed an agenda of the top issues on which consumers should hold policymakers accountable in the coming Congress and new administration. The agenda was sent to President-Elect Obama and Congressional leaders (cover letter enclosed).

Leaders of the seven groups – Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, National Association of Consumer Advocates, National Consumer Law Center, National Consumers League, Public Citizen, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, representing millions of American consumers – have united behind this agenda in response to increasing risks to consumer rights and protections.

Some recent threats to consumer rights, protections and standards of living include: the financial crisis and mortgage meltdown, high and volatile oil prices, growing concerns over the safety of imports and food, and the rising cost of health care.

As a result of anti-consumer policies in these areas, the coalition has developed a six-point agenda to highlight some of the most critical issues facing the American public today. The leaders noted that Congressional passage of comprehensive Consumer Product Safety Commission reform this summer was a positive step, suggesting that Congress may be ready to consider other important consumer reforms.

As the events of recent months have shown, weak consumer protections don’t just harm individual Americans, but the economy overall. Inadequate laws and poor oversight of credit and financial services have led to a huge loss of wealth for many American families and helped trigger an economic recession. This agenda is not simply a way to protect consumers, but to increase the economic and health security of the country. The agenda is a key starting point for raising questions of policymakers about how they intend to protect the public interest, said the leaders of the seven organizations.

The consumer leaders are intent on continuing to build an influential consumer movement that will be a powerful force for change. The six-point agenda includes (summary followed by detailed explanations):

  1. Restore the United States Office of Consumer Affairs; Put a Consumer “Czar” In The White House.
  1. Rein in Wall Street Excesses, Protect Consumers from Abusive and Predatory Lending.
  1. Protect Consumers from Price-Gouging in Oil, Gas and Electricity Markets, and Take Steps To Provide Households With Access to Alternative Energy and Efficiency.
  1. Improve Consumer Access to Justice By Reinstating Legal Rights.
  1. Guarantee Safe, High Quality, Affordable Healthcare for Everyone.
  1. Ensure our Food and Products are Safe.

An Agenda to Close Growing Gaps in Marketplace Protections

1.Restore the United States Office of Consumer Affairs; Put a Consumer “Czar” In The White House

During this economic crisis, one extremely significant step the new Administration could immediately take would be to restore an Office of Consumer Affairs in the White House. Such an office, run by a prominent advisor to the president, would clearly demonstrate the critical nature consumer protection issues play in restoring and maintaining a sound economy. As inadequate consumer protection has permeated so many of the crises the nation faces and the work of so many different federal agencies, having a strong, centralized consumer voice in the White House is all the more critical.

The United States Office of Consumer Affairs (USOCA) was established by Executive Order by President Nixon. Under pressure from Congress, the Clinton Administration allowed the office to be closed. The office should be reinstated as it existed under the Carter Administration, the time when it was most effective.

Under the Carter Administration, the director of the Office of Consumer Affairs had regular and direct access to the President. The office gave a voice to consumers and balanced and supplemented the ever-present and extremely well funded business lobby and Department of Commerce. The office was instrumental in victories for consumers, including: energy-efficiency labels on products; a program that simplified English in government documents; consumer rights regarding overbooked airline flights; a cooperative bank that would offer low-interest loans to public-interest groups; and increased competition in the trucking industry. The precursor to the Office of Consumer Affairs, the Special Assistant to the President for Consumer Affairs, helped pass truth-in-packaging legislation during the Johnson Administration. The Special Assistant also worked on bills concerning truth-in-lending and helping those who have overextended credit. A similarly strong consumer presence at the highest levels over the last few years might have prevented the current credit crisis.

The Office of Consumer Affairs should be reinstated as a well-funded office with a clear mandate to influence legislation, write executive orders, intervene as a full party in adjudicatory proceedings, have input at policy meetings, etc. Ideally, the post should be filled with someone with known credentials in the consumer world, and consumer advocacy organizations should be consulted before the director is chosen. Most importantly, the director of the USOCA should have direct and frequent access to the President.

2. Rein in Wall Street Excesses, Protect Consumers from Abusive and Predatory Lending.

The global economy has been brought to the brink of disaster, and taxpayers have been forced to bear the trillion-dollar cost of a financial market bailout, as a direct result of Wall Street’s reckless misconduct and lawmakers’ and regulators’ failure to rein in industry excesses. This has led to a huge loss wealth for many American families and triggered an economic recession. The sharp decline in housing prices nationwide caused by predatory and unsound mortgage lending is a major cause of the now global credit crisis. Banks, auto lenders, credit card issuers, student lenders and payday loan companies also targeted low and middle-income families with unaffordable and high-cost credit.  As a result, home foreclosures, credit card delinquencies and personal bankruptcies now devastate millions of Americans each year. The explosive growth of predatory lending has occurred because consumer protections have been reduced in the last 20 years and new reforms have not been added to rein in harmful practices. Where states have attempted to prohibit abusive credit practices, federal policy makers have sought to override state protections. Meanwhile Congress and federal regulators have acted much too slowly to enact laws or regulations that curb these harmful loans. Lenders have fought reform, arguing that it is more important to preserve a 19th century “buyer beware” free market than to protect American families from becoming buried in debt they cannot afford. While new housing legislation takes modest steps to restore faith in the market, it does little to help consumers already in foreclosure nor to prevent continued abusive practices.

Early warnings about the systemic risks posed by unregulated credit derivatives, inadequate capital standards at financial institutions, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, unreliable credit ratings, compensation practices that promote excessive risk-taking, and lack of transparency resulting from use of Structured Investment Vehicles and other off-balance sheet transactions went unheeded by federal regulators and Congress alike. Wall Street was able to fend off stronger investor protections by arguing that increased regulation would stifle innovation, burden industry, and drive business to less regulated markets overseas. As a result, investors have seen their investment portfolios decimated, traditional Wall Street institutions have either failed or stand on the brink of failure, and the global economy has sunk into recession.

Actions for Congress and the new administration: 1) develop a comprehensive financial restructuring plan that puts Main Street Before Wall Street, cures the flaws in the emergency legislation and prevents future catastrophes; 2) enact legislation that effectively prohibits abusive terms in mortgages and other loans, curbs lending without regard to ability to pay and provides effective relief to homeowners still caught in the foreclosure crisis (emergency provisions on foreclosure were grossly inadequate); 3) provide broad protections for credit card customers, including prohibiting unwarranted fees, retroactive interest rate increases, and payment allocation abuses; 4) protect consumers from predatory small loans such as payday loans, rent-to-own, auto title lending and refund anticipation loans, 5) restore bankruptcy as the final safety net for consumers caught by unaffordable mortgage, credit card debts and student loans, 6) restore the ability of states and individuals to enforce laws against predatory lending, and (7) adopt investor protection legislation and regulations that increase transparency and accountability of financial market participants, strengthen risk management practices, minimize conflicts of interest, and provide for strengthened regulatory oversight.

3) Protect Consumers from Price-Gouging in Oil, Gas and Electricity Markets, and Take Steps To Provide Households With Access to Alternative Energy and Efficiency.

Consumers and the American economy have been hit hard by sharply rising energy prices, especially for gasoline. Despite declining gasoline consumption, high inventory levels and increased production of ethanol, gasoline prices shot past $4 a gallon nationwide earlier this year. Natural gas, electricity and heating oil prices have also escalated. Electricity markets, particularly in states that deregulated and are now subject to oversight by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, have experienced sharp price increases. Although energy prices have declined recently, high prices through much of the last few years have forced moderate and lower income Americans to make painful choices to cutback spending on other necessities that are also increasing in price, such as food, healthcare and medicine. While energy prices are, for the time being, dropping, the nation cannot afford to be lulled into complacency. Future price hikes can be expected, home energy costs remain unaffordable for many families, especially those hit by the weak economy, and our nation’s continued dependence on fossil fuels threatens the economy, national security and the environment.

A major factor in rising gasoline prices has been the decline in gasoline refining capacity, brought on by mergers in the refining market and by deliberate decisions by oil company refiners to keep capacity tight. This has allowed a few very large companies to gain control of refining supply. The lack of effective regulation of financial and commodity markets has also led to the creation of a speculative energy “bubble” for energy commodities. Over the past two years, the cost of speculative trading has been over $40 a barrel of oil, or about $1 per gallon of gasoline.  The run up in gasoline prices led to excessive oil industry profits of over $200 billion above the normal level since 2002. Meanwhile, Congress has only recently acted to improve the dismally low fuel economy of passenger vehicles in the United States.

Actions for Congress and the new administration: 1) The government must give greater scrutiny to oil and refining company mergers, require greater competition and encourage the development of alternative fuels and energy sources that are environmentally safe and do not affect food prices. This would lead to lower prices, encourage smarter development of natural resources, and help make the U.S. more energy independent. 2) Congress and the Administration must ensure that the speculative bubble in energy and food commodities does not recur by closing loopholes created by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act and by poor oversight of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. 3) The Administration must appoint a FERC chairperson who will ensure that all electric rates are “just and reasonable.” 4) President Obama must also ensure that the National Highway Transportation Administration set the highest possible fuel economy standards under recently enacted legislation, which requires that passenger vehicles achieve well in excess of 35 mpg by 2020, and increase funding for mass transit. 5) Finally, Congress and the Administration should continue to increase financial assistance to lower income families who cannot afford increased energy prices or who are hit by the weak economy, and provide meaningful assistance to help households afford alternatives to high energy prices such as rebates to purchase super fuel-efficient hybrid cars, incentives to make energy efficient improvements to homes and solar panel installation, financed in part by eliminating subsidies to the oil industry.

4. Improve Consumer Access to Justice By Reinstating Legal Rights.

Consumer legal rights have been under assault for years. While Congress has refused to grant private rights of action in any new federal consumer laws and has even inserted provisions attacking the authority of state attorneys general in new federal laws, powerful special interests have been busy taking away available state law legal remedies by inserting mandatory arbitration clauses in all consumer contracts. Meanwhile, federal regulatory agencies have asserted over-broad authority to preempt state enforcement and consumer common law rights and the Supreme Court, most recently in Riegel v. Medtronic, has upheld them.

Actions for Congress and the new administration: 1) Enact legislation to restore an unbiased and open justice system that remedies harms and holds wrongdoers accountable; 2) ensure a consumer’s right to choose alternative dispute resolution, judicial review, or a jury by barring pre-dispute mandatory binding arbitration clauses from consumer contracts; 3) ensure the viability and enforceability of federal consumer protection laws by updating outdated liability provisions, preserving access to counsel through fee-shifting statutes, and permitting enforcement by state attorneys general; 4) preserve state health, safety, and consumer protection laws by halting federal preemption; and 5) ensure that systemic wrongs are righted by providing for class actions when pervasive and expansive misconduct occurs.

5. Guarantee Safe, High Quality, Affordable Healthcare for Everyone.

The U.S. has by far the most expensive health care system in the world, spending 50% more per person than the next closest country, Switzerland. As health care costs continue to rise, families are paying a larger and larger share. Many people are one illness away from bankruptcy. Nearly 1.3 million full-time workers lost their health insurance in 2006. At the same time, insurance companies are spending billions to deny care while drug companies are spending billions on TV ads for drugs that most of us may not need.

We need common sense reforms that redirect our nation’s health care dollars into better care and give people real choice, including the choice to stay with their current doctor. Insurance companies must compete to give us the best quality care, rather than profiting by denying care, cherry-picking the healthy patients, and excluding people with “pre-existing conditions.” Doctors, hospitals and patients should be free to focus on treating and preventing illness, without the piles of paperwork and endless hours spent decipheringcodes and bills. Real choices must be grounded in real information about doctors, hospitals and health plans–not misleading information created by advertising agencies.

Actions for Congress and the new administration: Ensure that healthcare is affordable for all consumers by adopting cost-saving innovations in preventative care, pay for performance, chronic disease management, evidence-based medicine, and increased primary care by all payers: private and public.  Create private and public insurance pool options that allow consumers to share risk and use greater bargaining power to get a fair price for insurance and guarantee consumers cannot be denied coverage or face skyrocketing premiums when you change jobs, get sick, or have a pre-existing condition. Make sure everyone can take their kids to a doctor, and is protected from losing life savings due to illness. Give people the tools they need to choose a health plan, hospital, doctor or treatment that is right for them. Ensure that treatments and medicines people take are high-quality, safe and affordable. Medicare should have the power to negotiate lower drug prices like the Veterans Administration. We need stronger FDA enforcement on the safety of drugs, including more inspections of manufacturing facilities and a moratorium on the advertising of newly introduced drugs until we learn more about possible side-effects. We need to adopt information technology that protects privacy while providing consumers, doctors and pharmacists with important medical information. And we need broad public reporting about hospital-acquired infections.

6. Ensure our Food and Products are Safe.

Consumers’ beliefs that our food and product safety systems are working have been shattered by the many recent recalls involving tainted meat and produce, and even children’s toys. Lax oversight, agency cutbacks, and surging imports have resulted in an unprecedented number of recalls involving everything from Salmonella-laced peppers, E-coli in spinach, and pet food and dairy products adulterated with melamine, to children’s jewelry made of lead. In fiscal year 2007, there were 473 recalls involving over 25 million products, many involving children’s toys and cribs. In the first three quarters of this fiscal year, the CPSC has already announced more than 415 recalls.

We should require FDA to inspect all food production facilities on a routine basis, both domestic and foreign, and increase inspections at the border. Providing both USDA and FDA with comprehensive mandatory recall authority will also enable the agencies to remove contaminated meats and other foods produce more quickly than simply relying on the voluntary cooperation of companies. In order to act quickly and knowledgeably when unsafe food threatens us, FDA also needs to establish a comprehensive traceability system for unsafe and high-risk foods. The USDA and the FDA should also allow the public to know immediately the names of stores that receive recalled foods so that consumers have a way of protecting themselves when a contamination outbreak occurs. With food safety spread across 15 federal agencies and departments now, federal food safety activities should be combined into a single food agency governed by a modernized food safety law.  Congress should be commended for enactment of the CPSC Reform Act of 2008, a comprehensive pro-consumer reform that reinvigorates and reauthorizes a long-neglected agency. Similar actions should be taken for the NHTSA and FDA.

Actions for Congress and the new administration: Support comprehensive food safety reform. Adequately fund federal food safety activities by both FDA and USDA. Increase and enhance inspections of domestic and imported foods and products before they enter our shores and stores. Support and enhance activities for FDA and USDA to ensure that food producers are producing food in a safe and sanitary manner. Give the FDA and USDA mandatory recall authority to promptly remove tainted foods, meats and produce from our shelves. Appoint strong consumer advocates to the restored CPSC, ensure that it obtains its new, higher authorized appropriations, and carefully oversee CPSC’s implementation of the new law.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.

Fighting Common Rip-Offs: Worth the Hassle? – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications, and Fraud

Useful link of the day: Is the payback for fighting rip-offs worth the time and stress involved?

Consumers are ripped off on a daily basis. This is sometimes due to deliberate criminal fraud, but often due to simple negligence, either on the part of a business or consumer.

Fortunately, consumers usually have recourse when they’re ripped off, often through various agencies of their local governments. Of course, while there may be some satisfaction in getting repayment for a rip-off, the time and effort involved may not be worth the monetary repayment. This weekend’s New York Magazine featured an excellent article on how long it takes to resolve common consumer complaints and offers its opinion on whether the repayment is worth the effort.

While the article is specific to New York City, many localities offer similar services. If the 3-1-1 information service is available in your area, a quick call can put you in touch with the appropriate government agency in your town or city. Check out the New York Magazine article here:

(Hat-tip to the ever-useful Consumerist for the link.)

Save Money On Holiday Software: Think Open Source! – National Consumers League

By John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud

For many consumers watching their bank accounts, pricey gifts like computers may be out of reach this holiday season.  With even the least-expensive new computers costing several hundred dollars, the price is often just too steep to justify the expense.  On top of that, many of us overlook the cost that software plays in the total price of a new computer purchase.

Although many consumers are so familiar with proprietary software that it rarely occurs to them to consider the alternatives, there is some good news in sight: there is a world of free, open-source software alternatives to most of the more well-known proprietary software packages.

“What is ‘open-source’ software anyway,” you’re probably asking yourself right now.  Good question!

The majority of consumers are most familiar with “closed-source” or “proprietary” software.  This is generally software that is created by a for-profit company and sold through a retail channel (think: Best Buy or Amazon.com).  The software is rarely customizable by you, the end-user, beyond what the software maker designed into it.  End-users are generally prevented from redistributing the software by law and by security measures written into the software itself (most often a license key).

Open-source software, by comparison, can be written by for-profit companies, individuals, or non-profit organizations.  It is generally distributed for free, and the underlying source code is made public so that end-users can modify it as they wish.  Since the software is usually free, it can be shared between users under the provisions of a free license, such as the GNU General Public License.  To learn more about the differences between open-source and closed-source, check out the great Wikipedia entry on the topic.

From a consumer’s point of view, the biggest difference between open-source and closed-source software, aside from price (or lack thereof) is, most likely, customer support.  Modern software is extremely complicated.  It can break due to bugs, and many of us may need help using the software even when it is functioning correctly.  Closed-source software companies generally offer customer service over the phone or via the World Wide Web to address such issues.  Open-source software, on the other hand, is supported by its user-community.  For many consumers, this is the major turn-off on open-source.  Instead of having readily-accessible help when things go wrong, open-source users most often search the Web for the answer.  Fortunately, the user-communities of much of the most popular open-source software is very large, meaning that the answer to a common problem is often just a Google-search away.

With the differences between open-source and closed-source software models in minds, let’s now get back to our original topic:  How can open-source software reduce the cost of owning a computer?  The best way to illustrate this is by way of an example.  When most people think of word-processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software they first think of the Microsoft Office line of products (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint).  While Microsoft Office is a very powerful suite of products, backed by one of the largest and most well-respected companies on the planet, it isn’t cheap.  The cheapest version we could find, Microsoft Office Home and Student 2007, is currently listed at $99.99 on Amazon.com.  A hundred bucks is a lot of money, even in good economic times.  Open-source, similarly-featured alternatives to Microsoft Office include OpenOffice or Google Docs.  Best of all, they’re free!

A second example:  Many  consumers want to edit photos to share with friends and relatives.  The market leader for such software, Adobe Photoshop, starts at $75 for the consumer version, Adobe Photoshop Elements.  Here again, similarly-featured alternative exists, including  GIMP (short for GNU Image Manipulation Program), Picasa, and Krita.

It’s not a stretch to say that for most popular proprietary software applications, there are free, open-source alternatives that are adequate replacements.  From desktop-publishing (Scribus), to sound-editing (Audacity), to financial accounting (GnuCash), to anti-virus software (Clamwin), to full operating systems (Ubuntu, OpenSolaris), there is open-source software to meet most common computing needs.

Open-source software is not without its flaws.  However, from the point of view of a consumer, the rich variety and quality of open-source means that software costs do not have to be a barrier to owning a computer or making an existing computer more functional.

Hill Talk On Expanding Broadband – National Consumers League

by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

One of the challenges of the modern age is getting the latest and best technology out to the most remote and rural areas of the U.S. This week I was part of a panel that briefed the staffs of members in the House of Representatives on what we call “broadband deployment.” Broadband – or “high-speed internet” is the technology that most of us city dwellers use to connect quickly to the Internet. Cable and DSL service are examples of broadband, and they give us very fast service.

Don’t we all remember the days when we were hooked into the telephone jack and could wait 30 minutes for one document to come onto the screen? That was dial-up service. Well, broadband brings that document up in seconds today. Unfortunately, the more rural parts of the country cannot get access to broadband for a number of reasons: it’s too expensive for companies to get service out to them, or in the case of many low-income citizens, they cannot afford the monthly broadband charge, which can run over $50. And equally unfortunate, it’s impossible to get businesses to set up in areas where there is no broadband available, nor do residents want to move to areas where they don’t get high-speed Internet.

For the United States, increased broadband deployment means better education, more jobs, improved healthcare, more efficient government and a better quality of life accessible for all Americans, regardless of their location or socio-economic circumstances.

Our panel, which was co-sponsored with the Alliance for Public Technology and the Communications Workers of America, featured a woman from rural Virginia who had won an essay contest in which she described how broadband had changed her life. She was a bus driver who had lost her job, and while her little town 2 ½ hours from the nation’s capital, had only had broadband access for a few years, this high-speed Internet access enabled her to take college courses and prepare for a new career.

In my presentation, I noted the NCL’s history of working on rural electrification and the parallels between getting electricity to farms in the 1930s and getting broadband access to remote areas in the new millennium. The National Consumers League is the nation’s oldest consumer organization and was part of the consumer movement that worked to bring affordable and accessible electricity to rural areas, which was one of the major consumer issues in the first half of the 20th Century. The issue had an important champion. In 1924, a New Yorker who had been a promising national official and an unsuccessful candidate for Vice President went to Warm Springs, Georgia to recover from a polio attack. Years later, in 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt described his experience this way to more than 40,000 people during the dedication of a rural electric cooperative in Georgia:

Fourteen years ago a Democratic Yankee came to a neighboring county in your state in search of a pool of warm water wherein he might swim his way back to health. There was only one discordant note in that first stay of mine at Warm Springs. When the first-of-the-month bill came for the electric light for my little cottage, I found that the charge was 18 cents a kilowatt-hour – about four times as much as I paid in Hyde Park, New York. That started my long study of proper public utility charges for electric current and the whole subject of getting electricity into farm homes. So it can be said that a little cottage at Warm Springs, Georgia, was the birthplace of the Rural Electrification Administration.

When Roosevelt was elected President in 1932, most of the country was frozen in the Great Depression, but the utilities and a few other industries were making unprecedented profits. A lot of this played out during the mid-1930s.

Rural electrification was a great grassroots consumer movement; rural people wanted electricity in the 1930s. Eventually with the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration in 1934 through executive order, and through the use of electric cooperatives and grassroots efforts by rural communities who sent letters to Congress supporting rural electrification, these communities demanded legislative action and asked to borrow money to build their own lines. And eventually legislation passed in 1936 to electrify rural areas. Consumer organizations were very much a part of this campaign.

Many experts agree that government should treat Internet access like it did electrical access in the 20th century. As late as the mid-1930s, nine out of 10 rural homes were without electricity. Within four years of the passage of the Rural Electrification Act, the number of rural electric systems doubled, the number of consumers connected more than tripled, and the miles of energized line was five times greater, according to the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association.

Today the challenge of getting broadband access to urban and rural areas persists. The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a survey in July, finding that 55 percent of American adults now have broadband access at home, up from 47 percent a year earlier and 42 percent in March 2007. By contrast, only 10 percent of Americans now have dial-up access. Despite the increase in overall broadband adoption, though, growth has been flat among African-American and low-income Americans. Of the Americans with no Internet access at all, about a third say they have no interest in logging on, even at dial-up speeds. Nearly 20 percent of nonusers had access in the past but dropped it. Older and lower-income Americans are most likely to be offline.

Consumer groups are an important voice in demanding that we meet the challenge of providing Internet access to both urban areas and rural areas. Yes, there are those who say they aren’t interested in broadband, but most rural people understand they need it to succeed in the 21st Century. Broadband access has become a necessity for businesses to set up shop in rural communities, for kids to do their schoolwork, to sell homes to newcomers in communities. Today’ farmers are like us. They went to college, they’ve had broadband access for years, and they don’t and cannot do without it.

Communities of color are demanding broadband in ever greater numbers:

  • African American access to the Internet has tripled over the last few years
  • 66 percent of Latinos with home access to the Internet now use broadband,

President-elect Obama’s technology policy supports this trend. “America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access,” he has said. His technology policy calls for providing “true broadband to every community in America.”

Broadband access is an economic engine for rural and urban areas. Connected Nation, a group promoting Internet access, says in a recent report that “just a 7 percentage point increase in broadband adoption could result in $134 billion per year in total direct economic impact” to the U.S. “Providing remote access to data gives people many more options in terms of where they work and whom they work for,” wrote Ed Felten, a computer scientist and public affairs professor at Princeton University. “Bandwidth makes people more productive,” he wrote.

What policies are we recommending? The recent enactment of the S. 1492, the Broadband Data Improvement Act, a few months ago will help greatly, but it needs to be adequately funded. There’s been no commitment to fund it by Congress so far. That bill enjoyed broad bi-partisan support. One could argue that this bill is the broadband counterpart to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act.

The Broadband Data Improvement Act creates a national grant program to help states create statewide broadband initiatives, using viability mapping, grassroots demand, extensive research, and efforts to put computers into the hands of disadvantaged communities.

This new law also requires a comparison of broadband deployment at home with broadband deployment abroad. Senator Durbin said about the bill:

“Broadband has become essential to rural areas which still lack adequate and affordable access to the Internet,” and that this “bill helps close the digital divide, ensuring that no Americans are left behind in the 21st Century’s digital economy.”

“If the United States is to remain a world leader in technology, we need a national broadband network that is second-to-none,” said Senator Daniel K. Inouye, a key champion of this bill (because he also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, all important when it comes to funding). “The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the continued rollout of broadband access, as well as the successful deployment of the next generation of broadband technology. But as I have said before, we cannot manage what we do not measure. This bill will give us the baseline statistics we need in order to eventually achieve the successful deployment of broadband access and services to all Americans.”

Other policy recommendations include:

  • Modernize the Universal Service Fund to better reflect the realities of the digital age. Congress considered access to telephone services so vital that they created a fund to ensure universal, affordable access for low-income and rural consumers. But even though broadband has become an indispensable feature in the lives of millions of Americans, it remains out of reach for poor and rural citizens. It is time for policymakers to modernize the Universal Service Fund the program to support the deployment of broadband services.
  • Require the FCC to improve its data collection on broadband markets. Policymakers cannot adequately assess the problems in the broadband market, nor identify the most appropriate solutions, if the FCC provides poor information. The starting point should be a more precise measure of which geographic area have service (using a smaller unit than the ZIP code). Beyond that, carriers should be required to report the percentages of households where broadband service is available in every service area, the percentage of households that subscribe, and the average cost per megabit of throughput. This evidentiary record will help provide an accurate analysis of the problems we face and foster solutions that will achieve results.
  • Allow states to act where the federal government has failed. It is apparent that state governments cannot rely on the FCC to tell them where service is deployed in their states, much less rely on the Commission to foster competition within their states. State governments should look to the example set by ConnectKentucky and take on the task of bringing private actors and local governments together to tackle the broadband problem.

In conclusion, consumer groups are dedicated to providing greater Internet access to rural areas that don’t currently have access and to ensure that those who do have access but can’t afford the technology can get it. Broadband is necessary for so many reasons in today’s economy. The U.S. shouldn’t be 16th in broadband deployment. We should be at the top of the list.