US consumers get half of advertised broadband speed

In a report, the agency said the practice of advertising 'up to' speeds is unhelpful for consumers

The actual download speeds that consumers get are about half of those promised by service providers, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

In 2009, U.S. residential consumers subscribed to broadband services with an average and median advertised download speed of 7 Mbps to 8 Mbps, respectively, the FCC said. But the actual average speed they received was 4 Mbps and the actual median speed was 3 Mbps.

The FCC criticized the use of maximum rather than actual speeds and said it will support efforts to develop a better way to represent bandwidth.

The maximum advertised speed ignores network congestion, underperforming computers and routers, and websites and applications that aren't optimized, the FCC said. "Yet this 'up to' speed is commonly the only metric that can be used to compare the speeds of different broadband offerings. The 'up to' speed, however, does not provide an accurate measure of likely end-user broadband experience," the FCC wrote in the report, released Tuesday.

The FCC plans to help develop a better way to measure actual speeds, per a recommendation in the National Broadband Plan. The plan, which lays out a road map for building more and faster broadband connections in the U.S., recommends that the FCC work with consumer groups, industry, technical experts and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop a standard that reflects what end users actually experience. It will include actual speeds and performance of the network at peak hours and over a period of time.

The report also showed significant continued growth in broadband and Internet use. Since 1994, the average number of hours each person spends online has increased at a 25 percent compound annual growth rate, the FCC found.

Last year, the average user consumed more than 9 GB of data per month on their home connection while the median user consumed less than 2 GB, the FCC reported. The wide gap between those figures reflects the small number of users who consume very large amounts of data per month. The most data-intensive 1 percent of residential consumers account for 25 percent of all traffic. The top 10 percent consume 70 percent, the FCC said.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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