Bitter Fruit for Consumers from the Google Money Tree – National Consumers League

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

When the economy goes into the tank, scammers seek to take advantage of consumers desperate for some extra cash. Unfortunately, due to trying economic circumstances, we find that consumers who would likely otherwise shy away from dubious business opportunities become more susceptible to them.

One such case involves a company advertising itself as “Google Money Tree,” which operates a site called Over the past two months, NCL’s Fraud Center has received more than a dozen consumer complaints via our online complaint form. In addition, blogs and message boards focusing on publicizing work-at-home scams have noted numerous complaints about the company.

The scam appears to work like this:

  • The victim receives an email or sees an ad offering a substantial weekly salary earned simply by “Posting on Google.”
  • The victim is then directed to a download site where they enter in their contact information to receive a “Google Money Tree Kit” for “free” (though a $3.88 shipping and handling charge applies).
  • Customers who enter their credit card information to order the kit are charged the $3.88 shipping and handling fee.

Sounds great, right? Ready for the Google Money Tree to start sprouting your riches?

Not so fast. Unfortunately, numerous consumers have reported that they receive nothing and are subsequently charged a $72.21 fee for access to the Google Money Tree. When they call to dispute the charge, they are told that they agreed to the monthly fee when they signed up to receive the kit and didn’t call to cancel within seven days.

It’s hard to believe that many consumers would have fallen for this trick if the $72.21 fee was readily disclosed. Where is this fee listed? Why, in hard-to-read grey text on a white background at the bottom of the page (above the attention-grabbing red “Check This Out!” sign pointing to photos of a Range Rover, mansion, and island retreat), of course! As stipulated, agreeing to receive the kit gives the consumer a 7-day trial access to the Google Money Tree private Web site where, presumably, the secrets of getting rich quick with Google will be revealed.

The Devil is in the Term and Conditions

As with most dubious work-at-home schemes, the devil is in the details; or in this case, the “terms and conditions” section. There, in tiny font, the red flags abound. First, consumers are alerted that the use of the Google Money Tree involves a negative option, a bill practice that has been deemed unethical by some (since the customer must “opt out” in order to avoid getting billed). The Federal Trade Commission enforces strict rules about how negative option billing programs can be advertised and disclosed via the Prenotification Negative Option Rule, which “requires companies to give you information about their plans, clearly and conspicuously, in any promotional materials that consumers can use to enroll.”

Second, the “Disclaimer of Warranties and Liability” section seems at odds with the advertised purpose of Google Money Tree. Specifically, the fine print states that:

“This Site is for informational purposes only, and is intended to provide helpful and informative material on the subjects addressed. does not provide legal, financial, or any other kind of professional advice or services. To make sure that information or suggestions on this site fit your particular circumstances, you should consult with an appropriate professional before taking action based on any suggestions or information on this site.”

The Google Money Tree Web site advertises that this is a “limited time offer” and that consumers should “act now!” Why then, are consumers advised to “consult with an appropriate professional” before taking any action (presumably to include investing money) that Google Money Tree advises?

Finally, there is the dreaded “Consent to Binding Arbitration Before the American Arbitration Association,” clause which essentially prevents a consumer from trying to get their money back from Google Money Tree in court.


The dubiousness of Google Money Tree does not end at the Terms and Condition section. Since we’re inquisitive types, we took it upon ourselves to look a bit deeper into Google Money Tree. First, we checked with the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada (Google Money Tree is registered to a P.O. Box in Las Vegas). Lo and behold, Google Money Tree has an “F” rating with the BBB due, in part, to six complaints against the company. The good folks at the BBB told us that Google Money Tree does not have a valid business license and that they began receiving complaints about the business in November 2008, which is incidentally around the same time that our Fraud Center began receiving complaints as well (are we surprised?).

We also checked out the inference on Google Money Tree’s advertising Web site that they were written up in the New York Times and USA Today. The only “mention” of Google Money Tree in either publication was a November 12, 2008 story in the New York Times that mentions how a former Google employee’s friends call him “the Google money tree.” If this is what the operators of feel amounts to an endorsement by the paper of record, they really are ambitious.

The Bottom Line: Avoid

For all intents and purposes, Google Money Tree looks like an extremely dubious enterprise, operating on the edge of being an out-and-out scam. Consumers should be on the watch for any get-rich-quick scheme, particularly those that promise large paydays in exchange for up-front investments in “training kits” or “educational materials,” especially if they involve recurring monthly fees. Because Internet companies like Google are respected names, scam artists frequently make use of their names to try and associate themselves with such companies’ good reputations. Remember to check out ANY company with the Better Business Bureau before sending them money and always, always, ALWAYS read the fine print. Finally, consumers who feel that they’ve been scammed by Google Money Tree or ANY scam should file their complaint at NCL’s online complaint form.

Elizabeth Warren’s Financial Services Product Safety Commission Proposal – National Consumers League

by Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director

Can a faulty toaster be compared with a faulty credit card? Several weeks ago at the Consumer Federation of America’s annual gathering on financial services, I heard Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren speak on just this topic. Warren, who wrote an article for Harvard Magazine called “Making Credit Safer: The Case for Regulation,” is recommending a radical new system for protecting consumers from credit card and other debts that are dangerous to their financial health. The new regime would be the financial equivalent of the Consumer Product Safety Commission – the independent federal agency that regulates the safety of 15,000 consumer products all of us use daily. Warren would call the new agency the “financial services product safety commission.”

The analogy Warren uses is this: you buy a toaster that had a wiring diagram and other documents, 31 pages long, single spaced. On page 25 is the diagram which shows a clearly faulty wiring system that means the toaster could burst into flames and burn down your house. If that happens, well, you should have known of the dangers; they are described right there in the manual. Warren argues that the financial documents that accompany credit cards, mortgages, or payday loans are the equivalent of that diagram. Consumers cannot be expected to read through a 31-page document to look for signs of danger in a toaster. No, the toaster is expected to be safe, and, if it is not, the Consumer Product Safety Commission will come in to protect you.

Like the toaster diagram, consumers don’t read the 31 pages that accompany a credit card agreement, and even it they did, they are unlikely to recognize the dangers signs. She argues that it is possible to refinance your home with a mortgage that has the same chance of putting your family out on the street—and the mortgage won’t even carry a disclosure of that fact. Similarly, while it’s impossible for the seller to change the price on a toaster once the consumer has purchased it, with a financial agreement, your credit-card company can triple the price of the credit even if you meet all the credit terms. Warren asks why consumers are safe when they purchase tangible products with cash, but left at the mercy of their creditors when they sign up for routine financial products like mortgages and credit cards.

Warren says that lenders have deliberately built tricks and traps into some credit products so they can ensnare families in a cycle of high-cost debt. She believes that creating a safer marketplace means making certain that the products themselves don’t become the source of trouble. This means that terms hidden in the fine print or obscured with incomprehensible language, reservation of all power to the seller with nothing left for the buyer, and similar tricks have no place in a well-functioning market.

How did financial products get so dangerous? Warren believes that disclosure has become a way to obfuscate rather than to inform. In the early 1980s, the typical credit-card contract was a page long; by the early 2000s, that contract had grown to more than 30 pages of incomprehensible text that no typical consumer can digest.

Her recommended solution is this Financial Product Safety Commission (FPSC), which could set guidelines for consumer disclosure, collect and report data about the uses of different financial products, review new products for safety, and require modification of dangerous products before they can be marketed to the public. The agency would review mortgages, credit cards, car loans, and so on. It could also exercise jurisdiction over life insurance and annuity contracts. In effect, the FPSC would evaluate these products to eliminate the hidden tricks that make some of them far more dangerous than others, and ensure that none pose unacceptable risks to consumers.

While there are undoubtedly many issues to work out with Warren’s plan, it does jumpstart the conversation. Consumers should feel they can enter credit markets confident that the products they purchase meet minimum safety standards. A financial products safety commission could collect data about which financial products are least understood, what kinds of disclosures are most effective, and which products are most likely to result in consumer default. Consumers deserve far stronger protections from predatory loans and gotcha late fees and finance charges – and this commission, or a bill that addresses these same issues, might just be the answer.

Consumer Czar Buzz – National Consumers League

You may have heard that,  a few weeks ago, a bunch of national public interest groups (including the National Consumers League) sent letters to Congressional leaders and President-Elect Obama calling for new pro-consumer policies that would help American consumers and workers on “pocketbook issues” and help heal our economic woes.

The groups recognized the threats against consumers’ rights and standards of living, including the mortgage meltdown, crazy high gas prices, fears about import and food safety, and unaffordable healthcare. When you think about it, things are pretty bad for us consumers these days.

One of the big things the groups (Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumers League, the National Consumer Law Center, Public Citizen, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group) are demanding is that the new Administration put a Consumer Czar in the White House.

The groups’ demand for a Czar is starting to get a little attention: the New York Times supported it in an editorial, the Consumerist has mentioned it, and the Wall Street Journal has blogged about it.

A little history: 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 consumer groups are calling for the office to 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.

No wonder these groups are calling for a Consumer Czar! Show your support for these efforts today!

Cough, Cold, and Headaches: What’s a Mom or Dad to Do? – National Consumers League

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are you’ve encountered some sniffles this winter–or will before too long. But for those who have been paying attention to the debate about cough and cold medicines and whether they are safe for fighting kids’ colds and flu, you may be as confused as ever.

NCL’s Rebecca Burkholder recently worked with our friend Helen Osborne, at the Boston Globe’s On Call Magazine, who just published an excellent article laying out the complicated issue for parents and explaining actions and information from the Food and Drug Administration. Read it here.

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.

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?

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.

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  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  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.