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Broadband subscribers mostly get what they pay for

A report from the FCC shows that on average broadband customers are getting about 80 percent of the advertised speed of broadband services. This is a huge improvement from two years ago.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
2 min read

Good news for U.S. broadband customers: On average major Internet service providers are delivering up to 80 percent of advertised broadband speeds, according to a study by the Federal Communications Commission.

This is a big improvement over 2009 when the FCC noted as part of its preparation for the National Broadband Plan that actual download speeds for broadband service were often about half of what broadband providers advertised as their maximum speeds.

"Most major ISPs are providing service close to what they're advertising," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in prepared remarks at a Best Buy store in Washington, D.C., today, where he unveiled the results of the recent study. "This represents a significant improvement over the findings from two years ago when we first shined a light on this issue."

The FCC looked at cable modem, DSL, and fiber-to-the-home services from the top 13 broadband providers in the U.S. Verizon Communications' Fios fiber service came the closest to providing advertised maximum download speeds on a consistent basis, while cable modem service from Cablevision Systems was the worst.

"In general, we found that even during peak periods, the majority of ISPs were providing actual speeds that were generally 80 percent or better than advertised rates, though there was considerable variation among the ISPs tested," the report said.

The results showed that during peak times of usage, which is between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. local time, DSL providers delivered about 82 percent of the advertised speeds. Meanwhile, cable providers delivered about 93 percent of the advertised speeds. But fiber-to-the-home services, which essentially was just Verizon, delivered about 114 percent of the advertised speeds.

Verizon said its choice to deploy fiber all the way to customers' homes has set it apart from its competitors.

"This report gives the FCC and consumers a snapshot of today's competitive broadband marketplace," Kathleen Grillo, Verizon senior vice president for federal regulatory relations, said in a statement. "It also demonstrates that Verizon's substantial investment in fiber-to-the-home technology is delivering real benefits to consumers that set us apart from the competition."

The FCC also looked at how download speeds affect certain online activities, such as streaming video. The commission noted that consumers watching standard-definition video should be fine with connections that offer 1Mbps and slower network speeds. High-definition video requires 2Mbps or more.

The report also found that the quality of voice-over-IP calls could be affected when broadband connections are shared with other services in a single household. Web browsing improved with higher speeds, but only up to 10 Mbps.

In addition to Cablevision and Verizon, which had its DSL and Fios services tested separately, the FCC's testing included AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Frontier Communications, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, and Insight Communications.