FCC Report: ISPs Improve On Advertised Speeds

The FCC Tuesday released its fourth Measuring Broadband America report based on nationwide tests of fixed broadband speeds and the takeaway was that most broadband providers continue to improve their performance relative to advertised speeds by meeting or overdelivering on those promises.

In fact, on average, Internet service providers sampled are now delivering 101% of advertised download speeds, compared to 97% in 2013.

Comcast and Cox also got a shout out for doubling their maximum upload rates from approximately 5 Mbps to 10 Mbps. "We applaud those service providers who continue to extend the boundaries of broadband performance," the report said.

That was the good news. The not-so-good, according to the FCC, is that some providers had "significant room for improvement," particularly in consistency of that delivered speed.

The FCC also signaled it had found some severe congestion at "certain interconnection points" that needed further study.

"Although that data is not included in the findings of the report, the FCC will make this data fully available with the report for the public to review and analyze," the FCC said in explaining how it would treat the congestion data.  "The FCC is also taking steps to better understand the issues that presented themselves, including by analyzing network impact on video service providers such as YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix and others and requesting more information from ISPs and video providers about peering issues. We are working to develop tools that measure and validate how these types of congestion issues affect the consumer experience. We expect to have instituted additional testing methodologies providing more information on network congestion and peering by winter 2014."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled last week the FCC was taking a deeper dive into peering and its impact on consumers.

Wheeler was clearly focused on the not-so-good" news in the report, bringing out the bully pulpit to press those providers to do better.

"Consumers deserve to get what they pay for," he said in a statement accompanying the release of the report. "While it’s encouraging to see that in the past these reports have encouraged providers to improve their services, I’m concerned that some providers are failing to deliver consistent speeds to consumers that are commensurate to their advertised speeds. As a result, I’ve directed FCC staff to write to the underperforming companies to ask why this happened and what they will do to solve this.”

All ISPs, with the exception of Verizon DSL, CenturyLink, Frontier DSL and Windstream, "meet 90% of performance or better, on average, during peak periods." Those DSL providers the FCC found underperforming are the ones likely getting those Wheeler letters, though the FCC would not confirm that.

"Average subscribed speed is now 21.2 Mbps, representing an average annualized speed increase of about 36 percent from the 15.6 Mbps average of 2012," FCC said.

The report was conducted in September 2013 among DSL, cable, fiber, and satellite–with data collected from 14 of the largest broadband providers accounting for over 80% of U.S. residential broadband connections.

The FCC pointed to the following key takeaways.

1. ISPs continue to deliver the combined upload/download speeds they advertise, but a new metric this year – consistency of speeds – shows there’s still work to be done [the FCC has added a metric, the speeds 80% of users are getting 80% of the time, to show how likely people are to be getting these speeds].

2. Download speeds performance varies by service tier, with some ISPs delivering less than 80 percent of advertised speeds.

3. Fiber and Cable technologies continue to evolve to higher speed offerings, but DSL is beginning to lag behind.

4. Consumers continue to migrate to higher speed tiers.

5. Upload speeds vary sharply. 

John Eggerton

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.