Some broadband is better than others, like fiber and …. satellite!

Written on:February 14, 2013
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The FCC’s third and most recent broadband quality report has determined that some types of broadband is still better than others, with fiber to the home and satellite generally offering more than the promised upload and download speeds at times of peak usage.

But of course, that’s not the only stat users might care about, which is why the FCC measures 13 different variables as part of its data collection efforts here. The data comes from Sam Knows and special routers sitting inside roughly 10,000 homes (I have one!). Those routers report on upload and download speeds, latency and the customers’ service tiers to create a nationwide picture of broadband quality.


And in general people should be pretty happy. As the chart above shows, people are mostly getting what they pay for, with customers of AT&T most likely to feel short-changed. What’s most surprising about this data is that satellite has moved from being pretty spotty to achieving high throughputs even at peak times, thanks to new satellites launched in the last two years. Sure, the service maxes out at 12 Mbps, but customers are getting those 12 Mbps and then some.

What else should the FCC monitor?

With most customers getting within 90 percent of the advertised speeds, the FCC should turn to gathering other data as well. Last summer it asked for comments on how other factors such as data caps might affect broadband quality. For example, would a service with a cap that delivers high speeds most of the time be as good as a service that has slightly lower consistency but no cap? Those comments were due last month, but there’s no mention of data caps in the report so far. Maybe we’ll see it in the next go round of this data. The FCC plans also to take a look at even faster speed tiers (maybe a gigabit) in later reports.

And in general it looks like customers are moving up to higher speeds, especially if they are starting out on the slow side, as the chart below indicates. This is great. Getting more people online, and subscribed to real broadband will be important in both closing a digital divide but also making it easier to design sites and services for more of the population. At those 1 Mbps and below speeds news stories featuring animated GIFs are a nightmare.


As a reporter, I’m glad the agency is collecting and reporting this data. Even though firms like Google and Netflix have options for measuring how your broadband or U.S. ISPs stack up, getting something objective from the FCC has a bit more cachet. Of course, the hope at the FCC is that the release of this data will help keep what is a relatively uncompetitive market for last mile broadband access a bit more honest.

But as a subscriber whose ISP isn’t quite delivering at the 100 percent mark — Time Warner Cable is pretty much the worst cable provider there is in terms of delivering on advertised speeds according to the chart below — this information doesn’t help. My only other option is the even-lower-performing AT&T. Add in the $ 10 rate hike I just got from TWC after I moved, and I’m left knowing that I have less-than-spectacular service but that I can’t do anything to make it better.


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