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Genachowski Remarks On "Measuring Broadband America"

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Released: August 2, 2011
FCC CHAIRMAN JULIUS GENACHOWSKI
REMARKS ON "MEASURING BROADBAND AMERICA" REPORT
BEST BUY
WASHINGTON, DC
AUGUST 2, 2011
Good morning and welcome to Best Buy. Some people think of the FCC as the government's
"geek squad," so I feel very much at home here.
What we're focused on at the FCC is policies that will unleash innovation in communications and
information technology, so we can grow our economy, bring benefits to all Americans and
enjoy the cool stuff around here.
Sometimes people think of Best Buy and other stores with gadgets as toy stores for grown-ups.
They're a lot more than that. Consumer electronics is a $190 billion industry that supports
hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The new generation of broadband-powered consumer electronics devices provides entertainment
and much more. You can use a new tablet to watch movies on Netflix, and also to watch great
lectures from MIT. A tablet can be a digital textbook empowering every student to learn at their
own pace, with personalized lessons. You can use your laptop to check your Facebook or
Google+ page, and also to have quality video-conferencing for business. You can use your
smartphone to run applications like Twitter and Pandora, and also to run your business when
you're on the go.
Broadband is also fueling innovative devices specifically designed to take advantage of the
capabilities of broadband. Cutting-edge medical devices wired and wireless use broadband to
monitor conditions like heart disease or diabetes around the clock, identifying symptoms before
they become big problems. Broadband powers smart grid technologies that save consumers
money on their energy bills and help us achieve energy independence.
Bottom line, broadband and these devices are changing almost every aspect of our lives.
And that's why it's so important that we free up more spectrum the public's airwaves to meet
exploding consumer demand for wireless broadband.
One of the most effective ways to do that is a market-based solution known as voluntary incentive
auctions. This solution, which I'm optimistic about and which has broad, bipartisan support on
the Hill, throughout the broadband economy, and from a cross-section of the nation's leading
economists will bring new spectrum to the market, money to the Treasury, and will help solve
growing challenges like data congestion and dropped connections.
The spectrum gap isn't the only gap we need to close. We need to tackle the broadband
deployment gap. While the overwhelming majority of Americans can get broadband if they want
it, more than 20 million Americans still can't. The Commission is now in the home stretch of a
major overhaul of our Universal Service policies to do just that to modernize and fix a broken
multi-billion dollar program so that it efficiently and meaningfully benefits consumers throughout
the country.
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While broadband is physically available to most Americans, roughly one-third of Americans still
are unconnected. That's nearly 100 million Americans who are being bypassed by the benefits of
broadband. This is the broadband adoption gap. The FCC is working with a broad array of
stakeholders to help these Americans subscribe to broadband.
While there's a flood of information to help consumers pick the right computer or gadget, when it
comes to picking the service that brings those devices to life, consumers are largely flying blind.
80% of consumers don't know what speed they subscribe to. If you check your monthly
broadband bill for specifics about the speed of your service, there's a good chance you won't find
that information there. And if you did, it might not be in a language you can understand. How
many people know what a megabit is?
And then there are questions about whether or not consumers get what they pay for. During the
FCC's development of the National Broadband Plan, we reported evidence from 2009 that actual
broadband speeds significantly lagged advertised speeds. That's why as part of the FCC's
Consumer Empowerment Agenda we've been working to arm consumers with information to
help them make smart choices about the broadband service that's right for them.
One thing we did was develop a broadband speed test, which allows consumers to click a button
on their computers or smartphones and get a sense of how fast their wired or wireless broadband
service is. American consumers have run more than a million of these speed tests, which shows
the demand for consumer information about broadband service quality.
Working with NTIA, an agency within the Department of Commerce, we helped create a
National Broadband Map, which consumers can use to find out what services are available in
their communities at what speeds. The map is still in beta, but we've gotten feedback from more
than 37,000 visitors, which will help update and improve the map.
We're promoting greater transparency about communications services both for broadband and
for telephone, where we're exposing the problem of mystery fees, as well as giving consumers
tools to avoid overage charges, what is commonly called bill shock.
Today, we take another important step to empower broadband consumers. I am proud to
announce the release of the most comprehensive and rigorous assessment ever of broadband
performance in the United States. Thirteen of the nation's largest Internet Service Providers
representing more than 86% of all wireline broadband subscribers took part. Researchers from
MIT and Georgia Tech, and leading consumer groups, were also key contributors.
What did we find?
First, we found that most major ISPs are providing service close to what they're advertising. This
represents a significant improvement over the findings from two years ago, when we first shone a
light on this issue. We also found that, while there are some differences between technologies,
DSL, cable, and fiber-to-the-home are all delivering quality service generally consistent with
what they advertise.
Another finding was that during peak hours--7 to 11 pm--broadband performance generally
decreases somewhat. But most services still provide actual speeds that are 80% to 90% of
advertised speeds, or better.
The survey also revealed that while speed matters, it's not the only thing that matters.
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Latency is the amount of time it takes for a particular packet of information to travel from one
point on the Internet to another--for example, from a search engine's server to your computer.
One might suspect that the higher the speed or bandwidth of your connection, the lower the
latency. But the study found that for basic Internet applications like web browsing, at a certain
point, higher speeds do not mean lower latency and therefore do not mean improved performance.
So why does this report matter?
It's informed consumers that make the market work. The more consumers know about broadband
speeds and the more they know about the speeds they receive, the more able they are to let
providers know what they really want. Information for consumers enhances competition among
providers of broadband Internet access services, and increases the likelihood that consumers will
be better served and receive greater value.
I expect broadband providers will look closely at the data we're releasing today and ensure
they're providing accurate, relevant, and easily understandable information to consumers about
their services. Providers should be aware that this survey isn't intended as a one-time thing.
I'm pleased by the results of the survey it says positive things about the process and the industry,
all in the service of consumers and innovation. It's a strong step.
We're making the underlying data public and accessible so that third parties can make good use
of it.
I expect providers will continue to improve disclosures for consumers, for example, including
easy-to-understand information about the actual performance of different broadband offerings.
To help empower consumers and ensure a healthy broadband market, in addition to this report,
the FCC is today releasing a step-by-step online guide to choosing home broadband service. The
guide walks consumers through the steps they should take when choosing the service that's best
for them. We also encourage current subscribers to check their bills and ask their providers what
service they have, and make sure it matches with what they need.
The guide translates this stuff into plain English. For example, if you read the guide you'll know
that megabits per second measures how much data your connection can download or upload per
second. And that for email, web-browsing, VoIP calls, or streaming standard definition movies,
thanks to innovations in compression technology, you can generally do all those things with a 4
megabit per second service. But if you want to stream movies in HD while other people in your
house are video chatting or streaming other video over the Internet, you might need a service
providing 10 megabits per second or more of actual download speeds.
And many consumers may require even greater bandwidth. For example, you may be a graduate
student or scientist or have a job working on intensively collaborative projects with a number of
others and very large amounts of data. And as the past decade has taught us, if you give
America's incredible app developers more bandwidth, they will harness it to create valuable
and indeed unimaginable new services that will create demand for faster connections.
In fact, I expect developers to use the unprecedented information we release today about
broadband network performance to create new applications and online services.
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For consumers, choosing the right broadband service can be a daunting task. Today, it gets a
little bit easier.
I look forward to working with consumer groups, application developers, and broadband
providers to make sure all Americans are informed and empowered to fully enjoy the benefits of
broadband.
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