FCC Begins Benchmarking ISPs’ Broadband Claims

By  |  Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 3:47 pm

The Federal Communications Commission has begun to benchmark Internet service speeds across the United States to allow consumer to compare the real world performance of their ISP with its advertised speeds. I’d like to see some action.

The program is under the aegis of the National Broadband Plan, which was created with funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to accelerate broadband deployment in the United States. The FCC is gathering data down to the level of home address.

“The FCC’s new digital tools will arm users with real-time information about their broadband connection and the agency with useful data about service across the country,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement to Reuters. The benchmarks will be combined with other data and presented to Congress as part of the agency’s broadband proposal.

Consumers may visit the agency’s Broadband.gov Web page to run the rest from their PCs or download the FCC Broadband Test app for Android and the iPhone. (When I ran the test, a script froze Firefox 3.6 on my Mac to the point where I had to manually kill the process, but Safari worked without a hitch.)

The Broadband.gov test, which is powered by Ookla Net Metrics, mirrored the results given from other testing engines in my area. I have Time Warner’s Road Runner service in Manhattan. My results were: 9165kbps download speed/490 kbps upload speed.

Time Warner is cagey about putting its advertised speeds out on the Web. Its “Speeds Levels” page for Road Runner lists capabilities – not speeds. I had to look at the fine print for a comparison made with DSL services at the bottom of the page to see that it promises a standard download speed of up to 10 Mbps.

Typically, my speeds vary throughout the day. A Speakeasy speed test returned downstream results of 3.5Mbps yesterday afternoon. I informed Time Warner about the issue through its e-mail support, and received a boilerplate answer about resetting my modem and router as a response.

Hey FCC –how about some accountability with those benchmarks? Most Americans get broadband from regional monopolies or oligopolies, and I bet that their actual performance doesn’t always match what those providers advertise.

In October, the FCC concluded that open access to broadband infrastructure is a catalyst for competition and deals for consumers. That competition couldn’t come soon enough.

Now the FCC has the ammo to at least prompt better service levels. I am stuck with Time Warner. My only other option is Verizon, but my building isn’t wired for it–yet. More. Choice. Please.


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4 Comments For This Post

  1. Big Dan Says:

    We’ve all known for quite some times that the oligopolies do no good for us consumers in some ways they’re worse than monopolies in my opinion. In my area and every other place I’ve compared broadband prices they simply match prices for each tier of service. All that’s left to compare is speed and quality of service.

    I’m one of the ‘lucky ones’ to have both DSL and cable internet available to me. Even though I can literally see the telephone switching station from my window the max DSL speed around here is 3 mbps but in reality the actual download speeds are horrid and only marginally better than dial up. Cable is capped at 10 mbps for the same $50 per month. That really leaves me with no choice.

    People should realize the only reason standard Road Runner got bumped up to 10 mbps is because they’re trying to compete with FIOS before that the standard tier was 5 mbps for as long I can remember. Don’t forget speed tests are thrown off by “Power Boost” the new marketing gimmick which gives you very fast bursts of download speed for small files like music. Try pulling down a 700MB Ubuntu ISO and you only get about 600 kbps after 3-4 minutes of the download which is still nothing to sneeze at.

    Overall I’m happy with my Road Runner service but for a while back in ’08 service was very spotty with outages at least twice a week. It would be nice to have competition so that we real choice with comparable speeds.


  2. tom b Says:

    I have Time Warner. Download speed is “OK”, but nothing like you’d get in more connected country, like Korea. In contrast UPLOAD speed is awful. Really awful. So much for off-site data storage!

  3. Bouke Timbermont Says:

    The difference between real bandwidth and advertised bandwidth is a problem all around the world: I am paying for a 12Mbs ADSL connection, while I actually only get about 6 Mbs, When asking my ISP about this, the response is that my house is ‘too far away from the closest central’. The ‘closest central’ of my ISP is 2 blocks away. They have to be kidding me.

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