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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The Biden administration wants to cut Americans' monthly internet bills, making efforts to accurately measure those costs more urgent — and sometimes contentious.

The big picture: The White House's executive order on competition, signed Friday, included a series of policies aimed at reducing what consumers pay for their online connections.

Why it matters: The administration's push to measure internet prices — and the broadband industry's counterargument that Americans actually pay less than consumers abroad — is a prologue to a bigger debate over whether to regulate those prices.

  • "There's a lot of indications that what they charge is very far from a competitive rate, and much more in line with what you'd expect from monopoly or duopoly pricing," Tim Wu, special assistant to the president for technology and competition policy, told Axios in an interview.

Driving the news: Consumer Reports is launching a project Tuesday to collect and analyze price data submitted by tens of thousands of customers sharing their monthly bills for home internet.

  • The goal of the Broadband Together Initiative is to capture the price and speed of internet service in U.S. communities, and to analyze the factors that affect prices — including whether their providers face any competition.
  • "We know anecdotally, that where there's competition, in general prices are lower," Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, told Axios.
  • If the bills show consumers with only one provider pay higher prices "then we can make the case for some government interventions to really do right by those consumers who are stuck," he said.

By the numbers: Consumer bill-paying platform doxo estimated in May that the average monthly cost of U.S. cable and internet is $116, based on its aggregated data from bill payers.

  • Yes, but: That figure is for both cable television service and internet — it doesn't break out the specific price for standalone home broadband.

Meanwhile, President Biden's recent executive order on promoting competition encourages the Federal Communication Commission to require internet providers to regularly report broadband rates to the agency to "improve price transparency."

  • The FCC already collects some price information, but a number of factors — promotions, bundled rates, equipment fees — make it challenging to discern the true cost of service.
  • “Consumers benefit from more transparency in their internet bills," Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "That’s always been true, but it’s especially clear coming out of this pandemic when so much of modern life has moved online.”

What they're saying: ""I think this is an important step for getting a more accurate sense of exactly what prices are being paid," Wu said.

The other side: In a response to the White House executive order, broadband provider trade group USTelecom argued the price of broadband is declining.

  • "The truth is: more Americans have less expensive, more reliable and better broadband service choices today than they did one year ago," USTelecom president Jonathan Spalter wrote.

.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Jul 12, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden wages war on anticompetitive "moats"

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Three weeks after naming Lina Khan to FTC chair, President Joe Biden has made her pro-competition philosophy the centerpiece of a sweeping executive order.

Why it matters: Biden is promulgating Khan's vision of anticompetitive behavior across "more than a dozen" different agencies. The order does not have the force of law; instead, it has the force of narrative.

America's depressed oil production

Data: Baker Hughes; Chart: Axios Visuals

The demand for oil has been rising as consumers emerge from their homes, and businesses rev up to serve them. However, oil companies are dragging their feet on ramping up production, new data from Baker Hughes showed Friday.

Why it matters: When production doesn't keep up with demand, it drives prices higher. Oil companies used to respond enthusiastically to rising prices by drilling more, in an attempt to cash in.

Jul 12, 2021 - Technology
Column / Tech Agenda

Big Tech’s small biz squeeze

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

While Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook all started as tiny operations in garages and dorm rooms, it's hard to imagine any of them being displaced by new startups today. President Biden's sweeping new executive order targeting big business is the most ambitious effort yet to clear space for challengers to thrive — but still faces daunting odds.

Why it matters: Tech's giants are now dominant economic forces, and the Biden administration says their market concentration may be undercutting the next generation of competitors. Biden's order calls for federal agencies to take action to reduce industry concentration, but today's tech industry is built around a "big fish eat little fish" ecology that will be hard to change.