For anyone who ever screamed at their laptop in borderline-incoherent rage as an app downloaded at a glacially slow pace, cursing everything from their Internet provider down to whomever strung the nearby cable, take heart: it could all be in your head. According to a new report from the Federal Communications Commission: consumer broadband is actually about as fast as advertised.
“In the September 2012 testing period, ISPs on average delivered 97 percent of advertised download speeds during peak periods,” the report noted, which is “statistically equivalent” to the findings of the FCC’s previous Internet-speed survey. (The FCC’s report focused on four ISP delivery technologies: cable, fiber, DSL and satellite.)
DSL services fared the worst in the FCC’s measurements, returning 85 percent of advertised speeds, while cable-based services managed to deliver 99 percent of advertised speeds. Fiber services outperformed, delivering 115 percent of advertised speeds, while satellite delivered 137 percent of advertised speeds. That’s roughly in line with the report results from 2012.
Based on its data, the FCC drew three conclusions: that ISPs continue to “closely meet or exceed the speeds they advertise,” that consumers “are continuing to migrate to faster speed tiers,” and that the adoption of satellite broadband has translated into “significant improvements in service quality.” The lattermost is due largely to a new generation of satellites with better performance and higher bandwidth capacity, including ViaSat’s ViaSat-1 satellite.
The FCC collected its data for the report from measurement hardware and software deployed in the homes of thousands of volunteer consumers. That infrastructure took automated readings throughout the course of the year.
Although advertised speeds closely correspond with actual speeds, the FCC acknowledges that the country would stand to upgrade its Internet services even more. “Consumers are continuing to show the importance of higher speed tiers for their needs by migrating their service plans to those tiers,” read the report’s conclusion. “Some of our results suggest that while consumers receive an immediate benefit from higher speeds, improvements in the overall Internet ecosystem may be necessary to fully realize the benefits of very high speeds.”
Some public and private enterprises are already examining how to boost the nation’s Internet speed. The widely publicized Google Fiber experiment is underway in Kansas City, with various neighborhoods connected to the search engine giant’s high-speed network; Google has other public-infrastructure projects in the works, including free Wi-Fi for New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood. The city of Seattle is also exploring the benefits of a massive high-speed broadband network.
As pointed out by many sources, the benefits of reliable high-speed Internet are massive. Not only can consumers watch House of Cards with the smoothness and sharpness that Netflix intended, but businesses that traffic in large datasets—which is quite a number of them, given the rise of analytics software and data warehouses—can perform their daily tasks in a much more efficient manner.
While regulators plan on eventually measuring mobile-broadband performance, such a report in apparently in the pipeline, just as soon as the FCC can adapt its technology to accurately measure such performance in a transparent way. At this early stage, the plan is for volunteers to download an application to smartphones, which would then send data back to the FCC’s data-collecting subcontractor.
The FCC’s full report, complete with colorful graphs, is available on its Website.
Now take a deep breath, and resist hurling that laptop through the nearest window.