Lies, damned lies, and Internet speeds

Lies, damned lies, and Internet speeds

Summary: The FCC's July 2012 Measuring Broadband America Report shows that ISPs are coming closer to delivering their advertised speeds.


ISPs have a bad habit of promising to deliver Internet speeds they actually can't deliver. But, according to the U.S.'s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) latest ISP Internet report, Measuring Broadband America, A Report on Consumer Wireline Broadband Performance in the U.S. ISPs are getting better at residential Internet broadband.

The FCC found that “participating broadband providers, actual download and upload speeds were over 80 percent of advertised speeds.” Just over 80% is a C in my school, but the ISPs are doing much better than they were last year. “In 2011, the average ISP delivered 87 percent of advertised download speed during peak usage periods [weeknights between 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm local time]; in 2012, that jumped to 96 percent. In other words, consumers today are experiencing performance more closely aligned with what is advertised than they experienced one year ago.”

The researchers also found that the “Average peak period download speeds varied from a high of 120 percent of advertised speed to a low of 77 percent of advertised speed. This is a dramatic improvement from last year where these numbers ranged from a high of 114 percent to a low of 54 percent.”

Five ISPs routinely met or exceeded their sustained advertised peak download rates. These were, from highest to lowest: Verizon Fiber), Cablevision, Comcast, Mediacom, and Charter. The worse, and it was by a wide margin, was Frontier.  

That said, the FCC also found that “differences among ISPs in their ability to deliver advertised speeds are now smaller” than they were last year. “The average peak period download speeds varied from a high of 120 percent of advertised speed to a low of 77 percent of advertised speed. This is a dramatic improvement from last year where these numbers ranged from a high of 114 percent to a low of 54 percent.”

As far as the technologies behind your Internet connection are concerned, fiber is without any doubt that the best connection is fiber.. “On average, during peak periods DSL-based services delivered download speeds that were 84 percent of advertised speeds, cable-based services delivered 99 percent of advertised speeds, and fiber-to-the-home services delivered 117 percent of advertised speeds.”

Peak uploads speeds, with the exception of WindStream, “were 95 percent or better of advertised speeds. On average, across all ISPs, upload speed was 107 percent of advertised speed.”

While network speeds, and ISP's speed claims have improved significantly, one critical factor in Internet performance have improved only slightly. Latency, the time it takes for a data packet to travel from one point to another has remained “largely unchanged from last year.” That's no surprise though because “it primarily depends upon factors intrinsic to a specific architecture and is largely outside the scope of improvement if networks are appropriately engineered. In 2012, across all technologies, latency averaged 31 milliseconds (ms), as opposed to 33 ms measured in 2011.”

As traffic increases during peak usage times, latency also increases. “During peak periods, latency increased across all technologies by 6.5 percent, which represents a modest drop in performance. In 2011 this figure was 8.7 percent.”

As you might guess, fiber is once against the best technology when it comes to dealing with latency. “Fiber-to-the-home services provided 18 ms round-trip latency on average, while cable-based services averaged 26 ms, and DSL-based services averaged 43 ms.”

All these results are a national average. Your results will vary depending on your distance from your ISP, the age of the technology in your area, and other factors. To check our your personal ISP connection, run the tests I recommend in How to check on your Internet connection.

For the best home wired Internet service though it's clear that you want to get fiber first, followed by cable, and finally DSL.

Related Stories:

Windows 8 moves to IPv6 Internet

Crazy time to launch an ISP?

330Mbps fiber: coming soon from British ISPs

Cablevision slaps Verizon with lawsuit over Internet speed claims

How to check on your Internet connection

Topics: Networking, Broadband

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  • FTTH

    In Portugal we have FTTH in one ISP. I used to have their service -- if you had the 50mbps package, you'd get 50mbps. Same with 100. And it's much cheaper than US bundles, even if you have a TV/Internet/phone bundle. I now have an FTTN ISP and I'm getting speeds in the range of 110-125mbps. My bundle includes a 120mbps connection -- so I'm very happy :)
  • AT&T

    AT&T DSL here.
    I am lucky to get 2 meg out of 3 meg.
    The nearest substation is at the border of getting decent DSL.
  • I participated in this initiative

    Been running the whitebox they provided. So my dsl speed were consistent (I have 12Mbps from Windstream) but I noticed issues with packet loss. Sure enough it was my router! Periodically, it goes silly and starts dropping packets. A reboot fixes it for a couple of weeks.

    Anyways, I recommend participating in this if you get a chance. The diagnostic information you get is very nice. You can trend your data for several months.
  • FiOS Quantum

    just upgraded to this
    my 75/35 tested out at 83/35

  • AT&T U-Verse

    I have the nominal 10Mbits down/ 1.5MBits up service. Most times, I seem to be getting up to 11MBits down, and averages 1.4MBits up.

    In my area--south central KS--I believe it's fiber to the CO, POTS to the house from the CO.
    M.R. Kennedy
  • Frontier is right on what they deliver

    I've had Frontier and you might as well run some tin cans and a fishing line. I was paying for 6 MB down and was getting around 2.2 MB down.
  • Good to know it's not my imagination

    Streaming on Frontier has become a real chore. Half the time I just give up. It's been a lot worse in the past month.
  • Fiber first?

    The only fiber in my area is about $5000 to drag to the house. Then it's $50 a month from a local ISP and capped at 20mbit.

    I get 20mbit from Comcast (yes, I test regularly).

    Real question is, "What is enough?" My peak loads including streaming multiple movies to multiple devices ranging from iPads to Blue Ray Players streaming Netflix. We have on average 5 devices going at any given time during peak periods. Oh, I forgot Vonage runs on the system as well.

    Comcast seems to handle it just fine.

    Not to say I haven't had my issues with Comcast, but in the past few years, they seem to have their act together.
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