Policy

ISPs Improve the ‘Speed Gap’

8/08/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Washington — Turns out cable operators are mostly
delivering on their advertised broadband speeds, after all.

A May technical paper from the Federal Communications
Commission, looking at the “gap” between advertised
and actual speed, based on the same 2009 data that
drove National Broadband Plan suggestions of a gulf that
needed bridging, had asserted that the “actual download
speeds experienced by U.S. consumers lagged advertised
speeds by roughly 50%.

What a difference a couple of years, or a different test
bed, can make.

The new study is based on March measurements of
peak-period performance (7 p.m. to 11 p.m.) with the help
of actual customers and major Internet-service providers,
including Comcast, Cox Communications and Time
Warner Cable. It found that at the peak periods measured,
cable operator ISPs were averaging 93% of advertised
download speeds and overdelivering promised upload
speeds at 108%.

The study also found that latency (delays due to traffic) during peak periods was only modest, that past a certain
point higher speeds no longer provided “much if any”
improvement in basic browsing, and that cable and other
technologies — DSL and fiber-to-the-home were also
tested — should be able to handle streaming video “provided
that the consumer has selected a broadband service
tier that matches the quality of streaming video desired.”

At a study unveiling at a Best Buy in Washington, D.C.,
FCC chairman Julius Genachowski suggested that improvements
had been made in delivering on advertised
speeds after that 2009 data put a spotlight on the issue.

Richard Bennett of the Information Technology & Innovation
Foundation suggested the new report was correcting
the earlier study, thanks to newer and better data.

Whichever it was, National Cable & Telecommunications
Association executive vice president James Assey
said it was time to scrap the gap label. “To the extent the
National Broadband Plan suggested there might be a significant gap between actual and advertised speeds, the
report dispels those concerns and makes clear that ‘actual
download speeds are substantially closer to advertised
speeds’ than was asserted previously,” Assey wrote in a
blog posting.

Genachowski urged ISPs to use the information to better
inform customers up front about service speed so they
have a better idea of what would be their best buy in Internet
access service.

September