European ISPs exaggerate their performance, US ISPs are more honest

But the connections U.S. ISPs offer are still slower and more expensive than those in Europe, South Korea and Japan, EU studies have found

European ISPs typically don't deliver on the download speeds they advertise, while U.S. ISPs tend to keep their promises. Despite the broken promises, though, the services actually delivered are still cheaper and faster in Europe than in the U.S.

Those are the findings of new studies of broadband Internet access across Europe and the U.S. published by the European Commission on Thursday.

On average, European broadband Internet access providers advertised download speeds of 47.9 Mbps, but only delivered 38.19 Mbps, while U.S. providers delivered more or less what they advertised, a study of access speeds found.

The headline figures conceal some significant differences in performance between the technologies used to deliver broadband access.

Operators using DSL, which accounts for seven out of 10 broadband connections in Europe, exaggerated the most, delivering only 63.3 percent of the advertised download speed. In the U.S., DSL operators delivered 92 percent of what they promised. Cable operators in Europe delivered 86.5 percent of the advertised speed, and fiber operators 83 percent, while their U.S. counterparts met or exceeded their promises, delivering 102 percent and 113 percent, respectively.

The study compared ISPs' performance in 2013 and 2014, and found that while download speeds were growing, their advertising claims were growing faster. Only with fiber technology were the engineers able to keep up with marketing departments.

Despite the exaggerations of European ISPs, if you want fast fixed-line Internet access, you're still better off in Europe than in the U.S. That's because the services actually delivered in Europe are faster and, in many cases, cheaper, than in the U.S.

At 8.27 Mbps, the average European DSL line was just ahead of the U.S. at 7.67 Mbps. Fiber speeds in Europe averaged 66.57 Mbps, compared to 41.35 Mbps. Europe's cable operators delivered the fastest performance of all, averaging 66.57 Mbps, comfortably ahead of the U.S. figure of 25.48 Mbps.

The price comparisons were the subject of a second study, comparing costs with advertised speeds. The researchers did not look at how the delivered speed correlated with the cost of the service.

They found that the cheapest available services in the 30-100 Mbps range were between 21 percent and 38 percent cheaper in the EU than in the U.S., while the best deals on services promising over 100 Mbps were between 13 and 34 percent cheaper in the EU than in the U.S. -- a difference that, given the faster actual speeds in Europe than in the U.S., more than compensates for any overblown advertising promises.

That's not enough to make Europe the nirvana of Internet speed freaks: Its best deals on the very highest residential broadband speeds are up to 74 percent more expensive than those in Japan or South Korea.

From next April, European ISPs will have to be more open about the minimum, normally available and maximum speeds they can expect, and make it easier for customers to cancel their contracts if those speeds are not delivered, as a result of new rules introduced by the European Commission. While that may add a bunch of footnotes to advertisements, though, it's unlikely to change the pace at which operators roll out new technology.

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Peter Sayer

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