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FCC Broadband Report Finds US ISPs Failing to Deliver on Many Levels

FCC Seal

The FCC recently released their fourth Measuring Broadband America report, which I believe to be their most damning. This year’s broadband report hit on five major points:

  1. Speed consistency
  2. Download speed performance varies too much
  3. DSL is lagging behind fiber and cable speeds
  4. Consumers continue to move to faster speeds
  5. Upload speeds vary sharply

In terms of speed consistency, The FCC stated that very few ISPs were delivering 100% of the speeds that they were promising to consumers. Most of the broadband ISPs claim their speeds as ‘up to’ in order to save their skin, however some ISPs like Cablevision are delivering 100% or better of advertised speeds to roughly 80% of customers roughly 80% of the time at peak periods. However, only half of ISPs delivered 90% or better of advertised speed and several ISPs delivered less than 60% or better of advertised speeds 80% of the time. This means that the other half of consumers are getting worse than that, which means a lot of people are not getting consistent speeds whatsoever. This new metric clearly indicates that a lot of ISPs still have a lot of work to do in improving the speeds that they’re promising consumers when they sell them their plans.


However, download speeds are not quite hitting the targets they should be, with some ISPs delivering less than 80% of advertised speeds. Also, in terms of broadband download speed improvements only one ISPs in the US (Qwest) saw speeds improve 10% or more (16%). All other ISPs in the US only saw their speeds improve less than 10% when compared to last year, mostly unchanged from last year. However the FCC still somehow stated that they believed overall trends were encouraging. Ten of 14 reporting ISPs show slightly improved download performance with four being virtually unchanged and only one (Verizon DSL) actually had worse performance than last year. Also, the FCC called out Windstream’s DSL service for only delivering 78% of the advertised speeds in their 1.5 Mbps speed tier (1.178Mbs effective), the worst among all ISPs in the US.


As you could tell above in our mention of download speeds, DSL is clearly struggling to keep up with fiber and cable connections with DSL ISPs like Verizon and Windstream delivering some of the worst numbers in the nation. As such, it comes as no surprise that broadband DSL is lagging behind fiber and cable speeds. Even though, in places like Europe ADSL is still delivering speeds of 20 Mbps+ which American providers are nowhere near delivering to their customers. So, there is no technological limitation here for them, merely a desire for them to deliver the bandwidth to DSL customers when they want to push customers over to fiber, cable and ethernet.


Contrary to what ISPs like Time Warner Cable are trying to lead the public to believe, people are always looking for faster speeds. If you offer 1 Gbps to people at a price they can afford and believe to be reasonable, like say Google’s 1 Gbps fiber connection, people that can afford it will absolutely without a doubt jump on it. The FCC is finding that consumers continue to move to faster speeds moving from slower tiers to higher offerings as well as through upgrades of standard offerings by ISPs. But even so, people are actively paying more for their internet just to get faster speeds, something that the ISPs aren’t openly admitting. We already know that ISPs aren’t upgrading overall speeds much (by less than 10% for the most part as stated above). But, the average of service tiers surveyed in 2013 shows an average advertised speed of 21.2 Mbps, an increase of nearly 36% from 15.6 Mbps in 2012.


The FCC also found that broadband upload speeds vary sharply, something that any consumer of internet service can easily find. With certain ISPs, like Time Warner Cable, you can get upload speeds as low as 5 Mbps even when your download speeds are as high as 100 Mbps. Their current speed tiers start with 1 Mbps upload with their 5 Mbps service and only go up to 5 Mbps even with their 100 Mbps. Certain ISPs like Verizon offer uploads of up to 35 Mbps and Frontier offers upload speeds of 25 Mbps, more than DOUBLE that of the next ISP. Both Verizon and Frontier are fiber-based ISPs  and as a result they are faster than most of their competitors and in fact no other ISP in the US came anywhere near 10 Mbps, which is incredibly depressing.


There was also a mention about problems regarding network congestion but said that they hadn’t fully compiled their data for this current report. They stated that they are looking for ways to test video services and how network congestion affects the quality of these services. However, we already know that most of the congestion is not happening due to a lack of bandwidth. We know that these issues are a result of poor peering and interconnects between tier 1 ISPs and the ‘last mile’ ISPs which are the ones that serve consumers. This is what has led to the entire debate about paid prioritization and net neutrality and whether or not these last mile ISPs such as Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon have the right to charge for prioritized traffic on their networks when they are neglecting the state of their interconnects with tier 1 ISPs as Level 3 Communications had blatantly called AT&T out for.

If you’d like to read the full report, head on over to the FCC’s Website for the Measuring Broadband America – 2014

We will continue to follow the FCC’s reports and break things down for you to better understand exactly what is going on with the state of the internet and broadband.