An FCC Report Says U.S. Internet Should Be Awesome and Reliable, but Don't Get Excited

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
June 19 2014 3:33 PM

An FCC Report Says U.S. Internet Should Be Awesome and Reliable, but Don't Get Excited

A weirdly upbeat graph.

Graph from Measuring Broadband America.

There's been a lot of talk about Internet speeds in the United States. Are they fast enough? Are they slower than the rest of the developed world? Is it an infrastructure issue? Are ISPs greedily hoarding speedy goodness? If only there were an initiative to consistently and objectively collect data about the speeds real American consumers receive in their homes. Oh, there's the FCC's Measuring Broadband America report? Yeah, that sounds good, let's use that.

The FCC has been gathering data on the speeds customers are paying for versus what they actually receive since 2011. And according to the agency's findings, ISPs are holding up their collective side of the bargain really well.

ISPs now provide 101 percent of advertised speeds. ... On average, during peak periods DSL-based services delivered download speeds that were 91 percent of advertised speeds, cable-based services delivered 102 percent of advertised speeds, fiber-to-the-home services delivered 113 percent of advertised speeds, and satellite delivered 138 percent of advertised speeds.  These results suggest that many ISPs are meeting established engineering goals for their respective technologies.

There's something weird about this, though. I don't know about you all, but I for one have never gotten the download or upload speeds promised to me by either provider I've used (Time Warner and Comcast). In fact, I've always had to over-buy just to get close to what I want. That's anecdotal, of course, but you've probably experienced the same thing. And if it's not true and ISPs are doing great, why is everyone talking about slow Internet?

And why did former FCC commissioner Michael Copps give an impassioned speech Wednesday at the Library of Congress about how dreadful  U.S. broadband is? “We have fallen so far short that we should be ashamed of ourselves,” he said, according to the Consumerist. “We should be leading, and we’re not. We need to get serious about broadband, we need to get serious about competition, we need to get serious about our country.”

Apparently the FCC is going to release separate data about node congestion on ISP networks, which should clarify this current report. The agency also makes some distinctions in this report between speeds the ISPs achieve and speeds they achieve consistently, and it has already said that it will look into how deals like the Netflix-Comcast agreement are impacting the service consumers receive. Getting 102 percent of advertised speed for cable Internet sounds great, but it's not what's up.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Lily Hay Newman is lead blogger for Future Tense.


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