Blog Post

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.

10 Responses to “FCC's Broadband Plan: A Need for (Actual) Speed”

  1. Anyone who buys into this shit knows absolutely nothing about how broadband works and should do a little research. Just because a company offers a broadband speed “up to 1mb/s” doesn’t mean that it will run at that speed. Maybe if you were the only person in that node that had internet, yes. But, for those of you who are misinformed by the FCC about this area, you have to take into account the number of internet users on a single node. A lot of times, if there are too many users on a node or a node has the potential to get too many users, the broadband provider will have to split a node to compensate.
    So, before you think that the FCC will be able to make companies give you “truth in advertising”, just remember that this cannot and will not work. There is no way it will and it will end up costing broadband providers millions of dollars to try to cater to the FCC so they can avoid any fines. This, in turn, will drive up the cost of broadband services so that the provider will be able to compensate for losses.
    So, there is a little common sense for you.

  2. I must live in some alternate universe. I regularly hit the max download speeds advertised by my cable provider (Comcast) and have great service through AT&T. *shrug* Sometimes I feel like all the bitching and moaning on these issues come from the coasts.

  3. This just gets funnier and funnier.

    First, we keep talking about broadband using a capacity measure (bits per second) but referring to it as speed. We may think they’re just different sides of the same coin but that’s often not the case. Like when congestion occurs.

    Second, the “speed” number cited by broadband operators is an advertised speed limit, not an average or a minimum. For shared packet networks, like broadband and the Internet, the minimum will always be zero and the average (which is what really matters to most people) will drift all over the place depending a range of externalities over which the broadband operator has no control.

    Third, if broadband operators were to allocate dedicated bandwidth between subscribers and “the Internet” (and be careful what you ask for because you might not like the price), what then? You still have a non-deterministic Internet to deal with and you still won’t have your precious “speed guarantees.”

    Is it just me or does it appear that these people inside the beltway have never actually looked inside the networks they want to regulate?

  4. Brett Glass

    Guaranteed speeds are no panacea. My ISP provides them, and actually pays dearly for this bit of truth in advertising; consumers often pick the highest advertised number rather than recognizing that the telephone company’s “up to” speed is anything but a guarantee. What’s more, when they get no more than the guaranteed speed during “prime time” (5 PM to 10 PM), and it’s not fast enough for something they want to do (e.g. stream HD video), are they willing to move to a higher guaranteed rate? No; they complain that the service is not good enough and sometimes quit.

    This is why many providers have become jaded and simply advertise the highest speed their networks could ever deliver.

  5. Not just actual speed, but a guaranteed minimum bandwidth/speed to be considered broadband (high speed Internet). I believe the current FCC definition of 768Kbps is an excellent place to start. Deliver less than this, you are not providing high speed Internet or broadband any longer.

    And keep in mind that the current FCC definition, is well over 9 years out of date (too low) as Japan had 100Mb / 100Mb for less than $55 per month in 2000, thanks to government de regulation. So a 100MB / 100MB would be a better definition of high speed broadband than 768Kbps today.

    Do a normal bell curve, think statistics. If the provider’s bandwidth falls below 768Kbps for a single customer for more than 20% of their access (24 X 7 X 365) than it should be considered legal FRAUD to claim High Speed Bandwidth.

    Personally I would like to see them spend some of the $18 Million spent lobbying our elected officials in Washington PER WEEK. And please remember that the telcos and cable companies have received in excess of $900 Billion since the 1990s in money + additional taxes + approved by legislature additional fees for the specific purpose of putting in Fiber to American citizens homes and apartments. Follow the money, solve the problem.

    Where’s the Fiber? Give me Fiber or Give me death!