FCC: Cable Still Delivering Promised Broadband Speeds

Third 'Measuring Broadband America' Report Finds MSOs Deliver 99% of Advertised Download Speeds

Large U.S. Internet service providers mostly continue to deliver on their promised broadband speeds -- delivering an average 97% of advertised download speeds during peak periods -- according to the Federal Communication Commission’s third “Measuring Broadband America” report, released Friday.

And as before, cable outshined DSL: Cable services on average delivered 99% of advertised download speed during peak periods, the same as on the FCC’s July 2012 broadband report, compared with DSL at 85% (up from 84% in the previous report).

The FCC also found that consumers are continuing to migrate to higher-speed tiers, and for the first time the study measured download speeds of 75 Megabits per second. Among the 14 ISPs surveyed, the commission found the average subscribed speed tier is now 15.6 Mbps, representing an average annualized speed increase of about 20%.

The FCC published its first Measuring Broadband America study in August 2011, and released the second in July 2012. The latest report is based on data collected in September 2012, representing a five-month interval from the previous data collection. In the September 2012 testing period, the ISPs’ actual deliver of advertised download speeds during peak periods was statistically equivalent to the prior report.

The “2013 Measuring Broadband America – February Report” surveyed subscribers of ISPs covering more than 80% of the residential market. For the first time, the study included results for satellite broadband, with test results collected from ViaSat; the agency said that with the satellite industry’s new generation of higher-performance satellites it is now possible to include comparisons between satellite and wireline technologies.

While most of the ISPs turned in the same results, there was one exception: Frontier Communications, which improved its performance 13% from the last reporting period. Still, the telco delivered less than advertised download speeds during peak hours, with an average of 87%, according to the FCC report.

In the most recent report, four ISPs exceeded their promised download speeds during peak usage periods (7 to 11 p.m. local time): Cablevision Systems (115%), Comcast (103%), Verizon FiOS (118%) and ViaSat (137%).

Other providers that turned in averages near the promised top speeds were Mediacom Communications (99%), Charter Communications (98%) and Cox Communications (97%). ISPs below those thresholds were Time Warner Cable (94%), Verizon DSL (88%), AT&T (87%), CenturyLink (87%), Insight Communications, which is now part of TWC (85%); and Qwest, part of CenturyLink (82%).

The FCC noted that consumers continue to move to faster-speed tiers, with the largest increases occurring where providers have made footprint-wide upgrades to subscriber tiers.

For example, 46% of the FCC survey participants with service of 1 Mbps or less in April 2012 had been bumped up to a higher tier by September, the report found. In addition, 21% of those on 1-3 Mbps, 11% of those on 3-7 Mbps and 27% of those on 7-10 Mbps packages upgraded to faster service within that five-month span.

As with the previous two studies, the FCC enlisted U.K.-based analytics vendor SamKnows to administer the project. For the most recent report, SamKnows conducted the measurement using its “Whitebox” devices and software deployed in the homes of 6,635 volunteer consumers. Overall, a total of 3 billion measurements were taken across 170 million unique tests.

The report, issued by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, is available here: www.fcc.gov/measuring-broadband-america/2013/February.

The FCC said the next testing period for the broadband program is scheduled for September 2013 (one year from the testing period analyzed in the most recent report) and that from here on out, it plans to repeat testing each year in the month of September and move to annual reporting.

“Over the next year, we anticipate that providers will continue to innovate and increase their offerings in the higher-speed tiers,” the agency said in the report, noting that the cable industry has also announced that it intends in the near future to extend its services to rates beyond 100 Mbps, while Verizon FiOS now offers rates up to 300 Mbps in select parts of its market footprint and Google has initiated 1 Gbps service in Kansas City, Mo.

In addition to continuing the existing program, the FCC said it also plans to conduct additional tests on other technologies, including mobile broadband, and more specialized studies to identify other areas of broadband network performance that “impact the overall consumer experience.” The commission said it hopes to produce at least one such specialized report in 2013.