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FCC study: Broadband services approach advertised speeds

Tue, 08/02/2011 - 8:20am
CED staff

The major providers of residential broadband services in the U.S. deliver Internet connections that are generally 80 percent to 90 percent of maximum advertised speeds, according to a government study released Tuesday.

The study by the Federal Communications Commission found that the three most popular wired broadband technologies – DSL, cable modems and fiber-optic links – all do a good job of delivering speeds promised to consumers. Even on weeknights, when Internet use surges with more people at home, most broadband providers deliver connections that are at least 80 percent of top advertised speeds.

Broadband providers generally advertise Internet services that offer connections up to a certain speed, but they don't guarantee those speeds. Although the FCC gave most broadband providers high marks, speeds do vary from company to company.

To help educate consumers shopping for broadband service, the FCC on Tuesday also launched a website with tips on what to consider when selecting a high-speed Internet plan.

A broadband speed guide available through the site shows the speeds needed for many common online activities. While basic Web browsing and online phone calls generally require minimum speeds of only a megabit or less per second, high-quality online video streaming, high-definition video conferencing and two-way online gaming need speeds of at least 4 megabits per second.

Consumers can also test their current broadband speeds and find out what broadband services are available where they live.

According to James Assey, executive vice president at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the FCC's new report "confirms that cable operators are delivering world-class services to their customers."

"To the extent the National Broadband Plan suggested there might be a significant gap between actual and advertised speeds," Assey blogged, "the report dispels those concerns and makes clear that 'actual download speeds are substantially closer to advertised speeds' than was asserted previously."

The testing also demonstrates the significant consumer benefits associated with PowerBoost technology, Assey added. "As the Commission's report demonstrates, PowerBoost increased download performance by as much as 52 percent during peak periods for some offerings."

The new findings released Tuesday are based on an FCC study of residential Internet service offered by 13 major broadband providers, including AT&T, Verizon Communications, Comcast Corp. and Time Warner Cable. The study measured Internet speeds delivered to thousands of subscribers in March.

The study didn't look into speeds provided by wireless services, which have technical constraints limiting speed.

Among the key findings:

  • During peak periods, DSL connections delivered average download speeds that were 82 percent of advertised speeds, cable modem services delivered 93 percent of advertised speeds and fiber-optic lines delivered service that was 14 percent faster than advertised.
  • Performance varied by Internet service provider. On the fast end, Verizon's fiber-optic FiOS service delivered average download speeds during peak periods that were 14 percent faster than advertised speeds. On the slow end, Cablevision Systems' peak-period average was 54 percent of advertised speeds. Cablevision said: "This report simply does not reflect the experience of our nearly 3 million broadband customers."
  • Some cable companies briefly boost speeds when customers use data-heavy applications. Those boosts can increase speeds by 6 percent to 52 percent during peak periods.

– AP Technology Writer Joelle Tessler contributed to this report

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