Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your fears confirmed: "up to" broadband speeds are bogus

Broadband providers in the US have long hawked their wares in "up to" terms. You know—"up to" 10Mbps, where "up to" sits like a tiny pebble beside the huge font size of the raw number.

In reality, no one gets these speeds. That's not news to the techno-literate, of course, but a new Federal Communications Commission report (PDF) shines a probing flashlight on the issue and makes a sharp conclusion: broadband users get, on average, a mere 50 percent of that "up to" speed they had hoped to achieve.

After crunching the data, FCC wonks have concluded that ISPs advertised an average (mean) "up to" download speed of 6.7Mbps in 2009. That's not what broadband users got, though.

"However, FCC analysis shows that the median actual speed consumers experienced in the first half of 2009 was roughly 3 Mbps, while the average (mean) actual speed was approximately 4 Mbps," says the report. "Therefore actual download speeds experienced by US consumers appear to lag advertised speeds by roughly 50 percent."

The agency used metrics data from Akamai and comScore to make this determination, though a more accurate direct measurement is currently taking place under FCC auspices. The more accurate measurement will put small boxes in people's homes for weeks at a time, recording actual line speeds in thousands of US homes at all times of the day and night. But, until that data set is complete, Internet traffic data from Akamai and comScore will have to suffice.

When you look at actual speeds, most Americans have fairly slow service
Data source: FCC

The gap between advertisement and reality isn't a function of technology—it applied to all kinds of broadband connections, from cable to DSL to fiber. The less-than-ideal speeds aren't necessarily the "fault" of the ISP, either; crufty computers, poky routers, misconfigured WiFi, transient line noise, and Internet congestion all play a role.

Whatever the cause, though, the FCC has concluded that advertising the "up to" speed is so inaccurate (and so confusing to consumers) that something better should be tried, sort of a "nutrition label" for Internet access. The National Broadband Plan suggested something along these lines and the new FCC report supports the idea, recommending that a standard truth-in-labeling form should be drafted by the FCC, "the National Institute of Standards and Technology, consumer groups, industry and other technical experts."

The FCC has proposed a few example labels of its own:

Example broadband labels (source: FCC)

The New America Foundation last year proposed a standardized "truth-in-labeling" box with far more detail, and it used the new FCC report as a way to pitch its idea once more.

New America Foundation's prototype Schumer Box for broadband customers

For now, broadband buyers should just expect their connections to offer about half the promised maximum speed. If that gets you down, just remember: you aren't in this alone. UK broadband users also see speeds only half as fast as advertised.

Posted via email from Tony Burkhart

No comments:

Post a Comment