Blog Post

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

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 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 (s 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 the digital divide but also make 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(s goog) and Netflix(s nflx) have options for measuring how your ISP stacks 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(s twc) is pretty much the worst cable provider there is in terms of delivering on advertised speeds according to the chart below — there’s little I can actually do with this information. 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 can do nothing to make it better.


16 Responses to “Some broadband is better than others, like fiber and …. satellite!”

  1. Richard Bennett

    The report has a tasty nugget of data on the upload side, where it shows that all technologies – DSL, Fiber, and cable – deliver more on the upstream side than advertised. The only way this can happen is for people to use the upstream side very lightly.

    To the astute observer, the dearth of traffic on the upstream side casts further doubt on Susan Crawford’s claim that Americans will need gigabit uploads in five years to be a competitive economy. But that’s not even the most ridiculous thing Crawford says.

  2. Richard Bennett

    Satellite is important for the rednecks in the boondocks, but not for city people. The Australian National Broadband Network is only going to wire 93% of the populatiion. Two percent will use terrestrial wireless and five percent will have to use satellite. That’s a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, more or less.

    The U. S. has risen from 22nd in the 4Q 2009 Akamai Average Connection Speed ranking to 8th in the most recent period. Whatever we’re doing is working.

  3. Paul Natsch

    The fact that satellite providers have such ridiculously low caps make them pretty much useless for just about anything. Sure you can do basic web browsing and email a bit faster but that’s about it if your family expects to be under the cap for the whole month. I know some people have no choice, and that it’s actually improved quite a bit from even a few years ago, but it’s still ridiculous.

  4. You really have missed the boat on not including wireless broadband as a bandwidth method. I know for a fact personally that wireless ( not celluar ) can perform as well as cable and in some cases fiber. Satellite doesn’t even enter into the realm as wireless, so it’s a non-issue. Fiber is still the King of delivery and is the backend for many of the transport methods. is a good starting point.

  5. I have AT&T U-verse and love it. I also a SamKnows router and the monthly reports show my service is very consistent and rock solid. Prior to U-verse I had TWC which was great at times but very inconsistent. When I would work from home my service with TWC would go way down everyday shortly after the school bus dropped off the kids in the neighborhood. Since I’ve had U-verse (3 years now) I have consistent broadband service.

  6. Bill Kula here with Verizon PR.

    Verizon’s blog and official statement about the FCC broadband performance test can be accessed here:

    “As the FCC report showed, every FiOS Internet speed tier delivered more than 100 percent of its advertised and sustained download performance during peak Internet usage periods, differentiating FiOS Internet from most cable company competitors.

    “The FCC’s findings reaffirm the results from the past two FCC broadband performance tests, which found that FiOS Internet provides blazing-fast and sustained upstream and downstream speeds as well as low latency even during the peak Internet usage time periods of 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. local time.

    “FiOS Quantum speeds of 50 Mbps or higher will increasingly become what most of our customers use because it provides capacity a step above competing services, as households add and use more Internet-connected tablets, laptops, video game consoles, smart TVs, Blu-ray players, streaming video services and smartphones.

    “While the number of Internet-connected devices grows, so too does the amount of time that consumers use those devices simultaneously, boosting their demand for not only fast downloads and uploads but also consistent and reliable performance at all times of the day. Consistently faster Internet service helps consumers get more value from all the Internet-connected devices they’re using.”

  7. I am still waiting for someone to resurrect teledesic. It was clearly a business model ahead of its time – when the internet of things was still off at a vast distance. Today we stand at the foot of the mountain, the base of what shoudl provide a hockey stick growth curve for the industry. And then with the growth of private sector space industry, I am just waiting, imho its time to bring back low orbit discussions.

  8. The reporter that has TWC should ask the cable to check wiring etc to the home, their could be line damage. I actually get more than the speed im paying for, for download speed with Time Warner, I dont get my advertised upload speed but again thats why they say upto xxmb per second, thats their way of getting out of it. But again I get more than what I am paying by a few mb’s

    • An issue with Satellite, which i have never seen mentioned, is “traffic management.” Often a request for a page gets cued for transmission or cued for reception. This is greater than just “latency” as the traffic is stopped until one’s turn for bandwidth is granted.

      This aspect of satellite is unacceptable.