FCC: Broadband delivers close to advertised speeds

Wired broadband providers in the U.S. deliver speeds that are close to, and sometimes exceed, the service they promise customers, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

During peak hours, providers of DSL-based service delivered download speeds that were 82% of advertised speeds, while cable providers delivered 93% of advertised speeds, and fiber-based providers delivered 114% of advertised speeds, said the FCC report, based on test results from 6,800 U.S. residents.

Upload speeds during peak hours were 95% of the advertised speeds for DSL, 108% for cable and 112% for fiber.

The tests, of 13 broadband providers serving 86% of the U.S. population, are "the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment ever of broadband performance in the United States," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said during a press conference at a Best Buy in Washington, D.C.

The new report represents a "significant improvement" over 2009 tests released in August 2010, Genachowski said. The earlier FCC report said U.S. consumers were getting download speeds that were half of the advertised speeds.

Some critics questioned the results and methodology the FCC used in the earlier study. The new report "corrects" the earlier study and shows the FCC's commitment to use good data, said Richard Bennett, senior research fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a tech-focused think tank.

"This report pretty well dispels the myth that many of my colleagues in the public-interest community have been peddling for a while that there's a huge gap between advertised and actual speeds," he said.

Genachowski and Parul Desai, communications policy counsel at Consumers Union, called on broadband providers to give customers more easy-to-understand information about broadband speeds provided. About 49% of the broadband customers who volunteered for the FCC study could not correctly report the advertised broadband speed their service offered, the report said.

"Consumers have been wandering in the wilderness for a long time, and we hope this information will help people cut through the confusion," Desai said. "Broadband is becoming so essential for Americans in their daily lives."

The FCC should also release a similar report on mobile broadband speeds, Desai said.

AT&T and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing cable broadband providers, applauded the report.

"These results, based on data from monitoring equipment installed in consumer homes and in ISP networks, debunk the conventional mythology that ISPs are delivering far less than the speeds they advertise," Bob Quinn, AT&T's senior vice president for federal regulatory affairs, wrote in a blog post. "Perhaps now we can get past the rhetoric about advertised vs. actual speeds and focus on the important task of ensuring all Americans have access to these broadband services."

Also on Tuesday, the FCC released a consumer guide to choosing broadband service.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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