Commentary

FCC: Major Lag Between Actual And Advertised U.S. Broadband Speeds

Internet service providers advertised broadband connections at an average download speed of 7 Mbps last year, but subscribers tended to actually download at speeds of only around 3-4 Mbps, the Federal Communications Commission says in a new report.

"Actual download speeds experienced by U.S. consumers appear to lag advertised speeds by roughly 50%," the FCC says in its paper, Broadband Performance.

Despite ISPs' problematic marketing claims, the FCC doesn't completely blame ISPs for the discrepancy between advertised and actual speeds. While saying that a maximum-speed standard doesn't "take into account congestion or degradation of service over the connection line," the FCC adds that the standard also doesn't account for factors beyond ISPs' control, including "degradation due to user devices (i.e., slow- or low-performing computers, under-functioning wired and wireless home routers, etc.) or the performance of websites and applications."

Regardless, average speeds only tell part of the story. Between 14 million and 24 million people don't have the opportunity to connect via broadband at home, the FCC said recently.

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And many of those who technically have broadband have service that's expensive and slow. Consider, in one ongoing lawsuit against HughesNet for allegedly delivering slower-than-advertised connections, the company argued its promised downstream speed of 5 Mbps -- for a pricey $349.99 a month -- was mere "puffery," or an obvious exaggeration.

Yes, ISPs could probably try harder to estimate the speeds that they will deliver to consumers. But the bigger challenge will be to increase those speeds and expand availability.

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