FCC Broadband Report: Is your provider telling the truth?

Posted on July 11, 2014

The FCC recently released its 2014 Measuring Broadband America Report containing the most recent connection speed data collected from fixed ISPs. Results of the study markedly point out the technology path ahead for broadband connections, and reveals the most (and least) trustworthy ISPs.


Focused on ISPs serving over 80% of the residential marketplace, the report is part of an ongoing nationwide study of broadband performance in the United States giving the temperature of overall network performance by analysing actual vs. advertised speeds and consistency of delivery.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the study’s findings:

1. Typically ISPs closely meet or exceed advertised speeds, but there’s room for improvement.

On average, all ISPs, except for DSL providers (who were worse), meet or exceed 90% of promised performance during peak periods. Typically, download speeds suffer more than uploads during peaks in demand, which is most likely a demand issue.

In terms of getting bang for your buck at peak usage periods, satellite broadband services delivered 138% of promised speeds, fiber-to-the-home delivered 113%, cable-based services delivered 102%, and DSL-based services delivered 91% of advertised download speeds.

Compared to the 24-hour average, peak period speeds decreased by 6.8 percent for satellite services, 2.7 percent for fiber-to-the-home services, 4.2 percent for cable-based services, and 3.8 percent for DSL-based services.

Lesson: Stop using DSL. Look to satellite for consistently underrated speeds, just beware of the potential for lag when dealing with RTC.

2. Across the board speeds could be more consistent.

When you look at the big picture, speeds start to vary significantly for a number of providers.

“…half the ISPs delivered less than about 90 percent or better of the advertised speed for 80/80. However about one-third of the ISPs delivered only 60 percent or better of advertised speeds 80 percent of the time to 80 percent of the consumers.

Lesson: It’s still a good idea to overspend on your bandwidth speeds, because there’s a good chance your provider isn’t providing the speeds they promised all the time.

3. Users are upgrading to faster speeds quickly.

For the this year’s study, the FCC had to add five new download speed tiers above 30 Mbps and one additional offering above 8 Mbps for upload speeds. The average subscribed speed nationwide is now 21.2 Mbps – a 36% speed increase over 2012.

Lesson: Real-time digital communications are becoming more possible for more people.

4. Don’t expect DSL to catch up.

While users as a whole saw speed improve by 36% in the last two years, ISPs predominantly providing DSL technology showed little or no improvement in maximum speeds.

The speed of DSL is mostly dictated by the length of the copper wire (loop) between the residence and the ISP’s terminating electronic equipment. To make it faster, providers would need to spend a whole lot more money on infrastructure shortening all those loops. DSL is not a strong investment. Especially because “both fiber and cable technologies intrinsically support higher bandwidths, and can support even higher speeds with more incremental investments.”

Lesson: See 1.

5. Upload Speeds are still lagging.

People download more than they upload. That’s why upload speeds are so often neglected by providers. But for the purposes of Voice and other real-time communications, upload speeds are just as important as download speeds.

The report noted that Verizon offers upload speeds as high as 35 Mbps and Frontier offers upload speeds of 25 Mbps. While, several cable companies did double their maximum upload speeds to 10 Mbps, that was as close as anyone came to Verizon and Frontier. Of course, you can get higher speeds, but the report only examined the most popular speeds available from each provider on a national basis.

Lesson: Shop for upload speeds that can handle your load requirements for voice and RTC.

For more details on the report, you can read it here. You’ll see specifics on which ISPs are living up to their end of the bargain and which ones are falling behind.

When choosing how your broadband is delivered, the safe bet is still fiber, or cable if you have to. From the forward looking perspective, it appears DSL will begin to fade even more quickly while demand for satellite service will likely grow (although less quickly).

Overall, access to better speeds is improving and that’s good news for everyone considering the rapid rise of real-time communications technology.

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