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Consumers Getting Faster Broadband, But Consistency a Concern, FCC Says

The nation's Internet service providers are on average delivering to consumers 101 percent of the download speeds they advertise, but making those speeds reliably available during peak usage hours is a big challenge for some companies, according to a new report from the Federal Communications Commission.

For example, four providers relying on older DSL technologies—Verizon DSL, CenturyLink, Frontier DSL and Windstream—consistently delivered only about 60 percent of their advertised speeds. 

"Consumers deserve to get what they pay for," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement. 'I'm concerned that some providers are failing to deliver consistent speeds to consumers that are commensurate to their advertised speeds."

No enforcement action is planned at this time, according to a senior FCC official speaking on background, but the commission will be sending letters to the CEO's of underperforming providers, asking them what they will do to improve.

Schools and other institutional Internet subscribers were not included in the study, which focused on individual consumers. Educators and digital-learning proponents are paying increased attention to students' access to and use of the Internet and digital devices outside of school.

In the study, consistency is defined as the actual speed that 80 percent of consumers receive 80 percent of the time. 

Among the findings in the "2014 Measuring Broadband America" report:

Fiber and cable speeds are going up, but DSL is lagging: Providers using old-school DSL technology "generally failed to meet their advertised speeds" and also struggled with consistency. Verizon DSL, CenturyLink, Frontier DSL, and Windstream were the only four providers of the 14 studied who, on average, failed to meet 90 percent of their advertised speeds or better during peak periods.

The speeds of consumers' Internet connections are increasing: The average subscribed speed is now 21.2 megabits per second, a 36 percent increase from last year's figure of 15.6 Mbps. Those results are not uniform across technology and ISP types, the report is careful to note; the capacity of fiber and cable connections is increasing far more rapidly than DSL, for example. Consumers continue to migrate to higher speeds, either through purchasing higher-speed service plans or upgrading standard offerings.

Download speeds remained relatively constant, while upload speeds vary sharply: This is in part due to companies' recognition of "asymmetric" Internet traffic—most consumers download far more than they upload, resulting in a wider variety of upload speeds.

Signs of big network congestion: Though it wasn't looking for it as part of this study, the FCC also "uncovered network congestion at certain interconnection points" in the nation's network. The commission has made raw data on this congestion available on its website and "is also taking steps to better understand the issues that presented themselves, including by analyzing network impact on video service providers such as YouTube, Hulu, and Netflix and other and requesting more information from ISPs and video providers," according to the FCC statement.

The report, released Wednesday, is the fourth in a series of "Measuring Broadband America" studies conduct by the FCC following a recommendation of the 2010 national broadband plan.  


Follow @BenjaminBHerold and @EdWeekEdTech for the latest news on ed-tech policies, practices, and trends.  

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