Broadband Speed Checked by Radar

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Washington -- Could cable operators
have to put broadband speed
stickers on their service contracts, like
those miles-per-gallon stickers on new
car windows?

The Federal Communications Commission
has not ruled it out.

The FCC last week released a survey
that showed most people don’t know
what broadband speeds they are getting,
though nine out of 10 say whatever they
are, they’re satisfied.

But the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental
Aff airs Bureau isn’t satisfied. It
argues that broadband customers need
to know that speed information to make
informed decisions about their ability to
stream video or engage in online gaming,
and to choose between competing

Bureau chief Joel Gurin said that given
that there can be hundreds of dollars of
diff erence in cost between different tiers
of service, knowing what you are paying
for is a “big issue.”

So, along with the survey, the commission
put out a call for digital guinea
pigs — 10,000 of them — to help them
test broadband service for, among other
things, delivered speeds, latency, jitter and
even the speed at which Web sites load.

That last element might provide some
governance on potential ISP mischief
in the wake of the April’s BitTorrent decision
— in which a U.S. appeals court
vacated an FCC order concerning how
Comcast managed peer-to-peer filesharing
traffic on its network — though
ISPs have argued that there won’t be any
of that sort of thing to monitor.

The National
Cable & Telecommunications
Association supports the test, in part
because the FCC is using it to get better
data than the ComScore numbers it used
to come up with the figure of a 50% gap
between actual and advertised speeds.
The National Cable & Telecommunications
Association has pointed out,
and the FCC concedes, that there are a
host of variables that affect that gap that
are not in the industry’s control, like the
type of computer or router or the number
of household members trying to get
online at once.