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FCC report shows ISPs are faster than ever, but congestion is a problem

The good news is that, overall, the country’s average broadband speed is 36 percent faster than what it was in 2012. The bad news is that DSL subscribers are getting left out of the party, and that severe congestion points are making life worse for everyone on the internet.

Those are some of the key takeaways from the FCC’s 2014 Measuring Broadband America Report, an annual publication that provides a welcome look at the country’s internet plumbing, including how ISPs live up to what they promise. The study involves the FCC collecting data from the routers of household volunteers across the country.

One significant finding is that the average household broadband speed is now 21.2 Mbps, compared to 15.6 Mbps in 2012, and that consumers are migrating to faster tier packages. This chart shows what percentage of people in various tiers in September 2012 have since upgraded to higher speeds:

tier preference screenshot

The report also shows more granular data that compares different ISPs. This chart shows how various ISPss meet their advertised upload and download speeds during peak hours:

FCC speed screenshot

As the FCC explains in the report, most of the ISPs, on average, perform as promised over 90 percent of the time. Four DSL providers — Verizon DSL, CenturyLink, Frontier DSL and Windstream — do not, however.

On a briefing call, an FCC executive suggested the CEOs of the DSL providers and other laggards can expect to receive a letter from the agency asking to them to explain their performance. He also suggested that the failure of DSL ISPs to improve may result from the relative cost of upgrading DSL infrastructure compared to cable and fiber systems.

This year’s report also offers a new metric that shows the consistency of the ISPs’ performance. This chart shows which companies were able to deliver or surpass their advertised speed to 80 percent of households 80 percent of the time during peak hours. Only Cablevision and Verizon Fiber could meet this metric:

consistency screenshot

While the FCC report offers important information into the companies’ relevant performance, it does not answer the question, which is most on the lips of telecom types these days: Who is responsible for video service slow-downs that have given rise to very public fights between Netflix on one side and companies like Verizon (S VZ) on the other?

According to the FCC, the agency is seeing “very severe congestion at specific points” but is for now unable to provide an analysis of what it is causing them. But it will release raw data on Wednesday that others can use to obtain insight.

This last bit is important because it will shine more light on the touchy topic of peering, which describes connection points at which ISPs plug into other parts of the internet, and has led to fights over who should pay for maintaining those connections. So far, the FCC’s annual data gathering report has not focused on congestion related to these connection points, in part because they have been considered beyond the control of the ISPs:

First, our existing policy is to exclude measurements from our Report known to have been  collected from a degraded measurements infrastructure affecting our testing. Our prior experience had been that such degradations were the result of network faults which were soon corrected and outside the scope of an ISP’s control

This is likely to change, as the agency says it will focus more attention on these congestion points.

The report also includes first-time data on the performance of satellite ISP’s, and much more. Here’s a copy:

This story was updated at 11:3o ET with new language describing the “consistency” graph above, per Jesse Borden in the comments.

2014 Fixed Measuring Broadband America Report

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10 Responses to “FCC report shows ISPs are faster than ever, but congestion is a problem”

  1. Olivier Gratton

    Thanks for sharing Jeff. In Europe we have too much differences of ISPs service among countries. So I’m living in the worst one at the moment, I mean Italy, and hope it would take a disruptive decision to go harder ahead. Olivier

  2. Duh!! Lets do the least for the most profit possible. Make the backbone a utility already. Better yet give me community wifi last mile and FRAK the big ISP’s

  3. Jesse Borden

    “This year’s report also offers a new metric that shows the consistency of the ISPs’ performance. This chart shows which companies were able to deliver advertised speed to 80 percent of households 80 percent of the time during peak hours. Only Cablevision and Verizon Fiber could achieve this mark 100 percent of the time.”

    They could have done a better job with the chart and the explanation. The last statement does not correlate to the chart. Is the % advertised synonymous with “percent of the time”. You can’t have greater than “100 percent of the time”.

      • Tamatura

        Comparison should be more of an apples-apples than otherwise. I mean if one compares to countries of similar subscriber size and geographical spread and size then we will know how we actually compare. And my opinion is then we will be near the top if not higher!

        • Deborah Mangini

          It cannot be Apples to Apples because the countries have different starting points.
          “Data offloading is a recognized wireless technology that transmits 47% of the mobile traffic in Europe, Russia, and Africa today and will grow to 63% by 2015.” – Juniper Research. –
          Total data traffic volume in 2012 was greater than all of previous years combined. Smartphone subscriber growth is expected to be greater than 4 times the rate of world population growth by 2017 – 4 Billion Phones by 2018. Currently, the carriers in the U.S. are only offloading their customers at a 3% rate. The FCC states that the carriers must get that number to at least 35% or their networks will no longer be utilized by consumers who demand services with fast and reliable data transmission.

    • Undertoad

      One Netflix stream is 5MB/s so Merica only has enough capacity to watch 4 movies at a time. This is an outrage but not such a severe outrage as getting past 56k modems in 1999.

      • Hikari

        You would be lucky to get 5 MB/s from an ISP passing a Netflix connection. Many millions of overpaying ISP subscribers have been fortunate enough to have their streams degraded to a few hundred kilobits per second, if that by the monopolistic rent-seeking and anti-competitive practices of the large ISPs.