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Consumers Not Getting Broadband Speeds Advertised, says FCC Study

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Following a modified definition of broadband-which the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) increased from 200Kpbs to 2Mbps-the FCC has issued a technical paper noting the disparity between advertised and actual broadband speeds.

The technical paper is available for download, but a few key points are of interest to StreamingMedia.com readers.

One of the most controversial aspects of the paper is its methodology. The FCC notes four sources of data gathering: self-reporting by countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), self-reporting by broadband providers on FCC form 477, comScore testing, and a white paper from Greenstein and McDevitt. 

Of the four sources of data, the FCC notes that two of them should be approached with caution-the OECD self-reporting, which shows the U.S. as having an average of 9.6Mbps, and the Greenstein white paper-and that another one that should be further refined and only used in aggregate (FCC form 477).

That leaves only the comScore data, to which the FCC devotes almost two whole pages from a 30-page technical paper. Interestingly, the comScore testing from two locations (Reston, VA, and Chicago) is used extensively. Why the FCC ignored data from DSLreports.com and other consumer-reported speed tests that use speed test platforms from over 15 locations around the continental U.S. is baffling, as that data would provide a larger aggregate as well as a potential control group. 

The technical paper does a good job providing a picture of the average US consumer of broadband.

"The average internet user has been online for 10 years and spends roughly 29 hours per month online at home," the report states, "double the amount in 2000. Faster connections are correlated with more time online and, overall, per-person usage is growing substantially (30-35% per year)."

In addition, the FCC breaks down consumers into four profiles: advanced, emerging multimedia, full multimedia, and utility.

"Based on FCC analysis, there are four distinct use profiles among U.S. consumers, each with different usage characteristics," the paper states. "For these four use profiles, actual download speed demands range from .5 to 7 megabits per second (Mbps), with varying quality-of-service requirements."

Utility users primarily do basic browsing and email, while the remaining three groups add significantly to their broadband consumption by viewing video: emerging multimedia users views YouTube videos, effectively doubling their broadband consumption needs to 1Mpbs; the full multimedia user jumps to 4Mbps solely on the basis of watching live SD video streams; and the advanced user jumps to 7Mbps on the need for synchronous, bi-directional communications.

"Advanced users accessing applications such as enhanced two-way videoconferencing and HD video streaming could require actual symmetric (i.e., upload and download) speeds of 5Mbps or more and significant QOS (e.g., low latency) from the network," the paper states.

The technical paper states that most consumers are subscribed to services that are advertised, on average, at 7-8Mpbs, but that the average speed received is only 4Mbps.

"FCC analysis shows that average (mean) actual speed consumers received was approximately 4Mbps," the paper states, "while the median actual speed was roughly 3Mbps in 2009. Therefore actual download speeds experienced by U.S. consumers lag [behind] advertised speeds by roughly 50% . This gap is similar across technologies and is due to a variety of factors, some controlled by users (computer performance, home Wi-Fi set-up, etc.), some within the span of control of providers in their network, and some due to the unpredictability of the internet. This gap may cause confusion among consumers, as actual speeds, which largely determine the end-user experience, lag [behind] advertised speeds considerably."

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