FCC: Broadband providers getting close to advertised speeds

But the FCC's numbers differ significantly from other recent studies, a critic says

U.S. broadband providers are delivering close to their advertised speeds, according to a U.S. Federal Communications Commission report, but not everyone trusts the numbers.

The FCC's new broadband performance study, released Thursday, found that providers are delivering 96 percent of advertised download speeds during times of peak bandwidth demand, up from 87 percent of advertised speeds in an August 2011 report.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski called the study's results encouraging. "Millions of Americans have improved broadband performance," he said in a statement. "This is good news for consumers and the economy, but we need to keep pushing for faster broadband speeds and greater capacity."

However, other recent broadband measurements tell a different story, said Benjamin Lennett, policy director at the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The FCC's results, from a proprietary measurement tool called SamKnows, are "quite surprising," Lennett said.

"The results published by the FCC are distinctly different from a number of currently published statistics measuring actual broadband speeds," he said in an email.

Akamai, in the fourth quarter of 2011, found the average connection speed in the U.S. was 5.8M bps, compared to an average connection speed of 14.6M bps reported by the FCC, he noted.

Measurement Lab's consumer broadband tool found an average connection speed in the U.S. of 5.5M bps in April, he said.

Lennett said he's unsure of the reasons for the large differences between the FCC's numbers and those from Akamai and Measurement Lab. "It's too early to draw any conclusions since the report was just released," he said. "It is just odd that the differences between the FCC's numbers on average connection speed and the other reports is so dramatic."

Measurement Lab, a research consortium supported by the New America Foundation, includes a small number of mobile broadband connections in its measurements, but not enough to explain the large differences between its results and the FCC's, Lennett said.

An FCC spokesman didn't immediately respond to a message asking about the differences between the FCC's study and others.

The FCC's new study found DSL-based services delivering download speeds that were 84 percent of advertised speeds, cable-based services delivering 99 percent of advertised speeds and fiber-to-the-home services delivering 117 percent of advertised speeds.

During the 2011 tests, the FCC found performance levels of 82 percent for DSL, 93 percent for cable and 114 percent for fiber.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing cable broadband providers, trumpeted the FCC's study as evidence that "consumers across the U.S. consistently are receiving faster and more robust cable broadband service."

After two successful broadband tests, "it may be time for the commission to turn its attention elsewhere," the trade group said in a blog post.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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