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FCC May Add Video Streaming to Broadband Speed Tests

The FCC has told the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that it is testing an expansion of its annual Measuring Broadband America report to provide more and better information for consumers, including measuring broadband performance when a consumer is using streaming video services.

That is from a new GAO report on how the FCC collects and disseminates broadband performance information to the public.

One of the FCC's arguments in changing its broadband speed target for advanced telecommunications services to 25 Mbps was the capacity needed for multiple video streamers in a household. Promoting online video as a competitor to traditional MVPD service is high on the FCC's agenda under chairman Tom Wheeler.

GAO concluded in the report that the FCC needs to collect more info—collecting or commissioning outside research on broadband performance rather than relying on reports from ISPs—and better measure its own performance in providing that info.

For its part, the FCC responded that it would "continue" to provide performance information and take "all appropriate steps" to do so, including "conducting meaningful outreach" to consumers and coming up with performance measurements to "capture the effectiveness" of its efforts.

The FCC's broadband speed tests are collaborations with major ISPs. But given that ISP speed disclosures vary, GAO pointed out, some stakeholders argue it is tough for consumers to compare services. But GAO also pointed out that some ISPs question the benefits of standardization.

The FCC's Open Internet Advisory Committee Transparency Working Group recommended that the FCC promote a voluntary labeling program to help consumers compare broadband service offerings, but according to GAO, its takeaway from talks with FCC officials was that coming up with such labels is complicated. In the 2015 Open Internet order, GAO pointed out, the FCC came up with a safe harbor for service disclosures that will allow ISPs to comply with its new transparency rule, but did not mandate the format, instead charging the advisory committee to come up with a new voluntary format no later than Oct. 31.

GAO found that the FCC's annual broadband speed report—from that Measuring Broadband America ISP collaboration—is a highly technical document with raw data and detailed appendices and that the public generally is not aware of it and doesn't use it.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.