FCC's Broadband Plan: A Need for (Actual) Speed

600px-US-FCC-Seal.svgU.S. broadband policy must take into account real network speeds, which lag advertised speeds by as much as 50-80 at least 50 percent, according to the FCC task force charged with helping to develop a national broadband plan. But just how policy should address the differences between the two is far from clear.

The comments came as the FCC holds public meetings and gathers input as part of its effort to hammer out a national broadband plan, which will be delivered to Congress in February. The task force presented its status report today in a meeting that looked at how the commission can most effectively address gaps in broadband’s reach and spur deployment and usage of high-speed services. As one might expect, part of that discussion focused on the claims of Internet service providers.

“We should concentrate on actual speed, as it’s a more useful metric to tell the story of broadband,” said Shawn Hoy, a member of the FCC’s broadband task force. “Applications designers will design applications that will require the maximum available broadband speeds.”

Other stats the task force cited included the fact that 20 percent of users drive as much as 80 percent of traffic on the network, and peak usage hours — generally from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. — create network congestion and speed degradation. While most consumers currently use the Internet to check email or surf online content, network constraints will be further tested in coming years as uptake of data-heavy offerings like video conferencing and streaming multimedia ramp up. And the importance of the Internet will increase as the web becomes a vital part of industries such as education and health care.

A lack of truth in broadband advertising is nothing new, of course, and there have long been calls for service providers to guarantee network speeds or drop their claims. But no easy solutions exist. A guarantee of network performance will likely result in higher fees to consumers, and congestion pricing could prove a logistical nightmare that further confuses consumers. We’ve tried to address this issue (and others) with our Broadband Bill of Rights, which would require service providers to disclose what kind of maximum and minimum speeds users can expect from their offerings. Whether the FCC is prepared to embrace such a solution has yet to be determined, however.