December 5, 2011 - 11:40 am
Joel Gurin | Chief, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=98,width=70]]As part of our Consumer Empowerment Agenda, the FCC has been taking action to ensure that consumers are getting the information they need to make informed decisions.  Our efforts to combat bill shock are one recent example, where we worked out a landmark agreement with the wireless industry to alert consumers before they are charged overage fees.  The residential broadband market is another area where consumers may be faced with decisions they don’t have adequate information to make.  Signing up for broadband—high-speed Internet—service can been a real challenge for consumers.  To be an informed shopper for any service, you have to know what will best meet your needs, and you have to know that service providers will deliver what they advertise.

When it comes to broadband, consumers are often in the dark on both counts. Many people are still puzzling out exactly how many megabits per second (Mbps) they need for web surfing, gaming, or streaming video. And, until recently, there was little information available about whether broadband providers actually delivered the speeds they promised.

The FCC has taken on this issue, beginning with the basic question: Are broadband providers delivering the speeds they promise to consumers?  For a year, we worked with an expert technical consulting group, advisers from academia and consumer organizations, and a collaborative of representatives from industry to conduct the first nationwide scientific study of home broadband service.  Almost 7,000 consumer volunteers across the country used hardware to monitor their broadband performance continuously for several months, providing close to 160 million points of data used for analysis.  This study measured the performance of 13 major broadband providers, covering 86 percent of wireline residential broadband consumers.

The result was the Measuring Broadband America report, released last summer.  In that report, we presented our findings in a number of ways, by technology, provider, and time of day.  Many providers performed quite well, some even exceeding advertised speeds.  But we also found some instances where broadband service fell significantly short of what was advertised, particularly at the times of day for peak broadband usage.

As we had hoped, our results quickly began informing the marketplace.  Our findings were reported not only on the news and on the websites of consumer groups, but also in television commercials, radio ads, and press releases from Internet service providers themselves.  Those who had done well in our tests spread the news, and attempted to use their strong performance results to win customers in the marketplace.

In the months since we released our initial report, we have continued to gather direct measurements of broadband performance.  We are pleased to note that the performance of one company—Cablevision—markedly improved from earlier this year.  As we noted in our report, during March 2011, subscribers to Cablevision’s 15 Mbps service were receiving average download speeds during peak hours of only about 50% of the advertised speed.  By comparison, average users across all companies other than Cablevision were receiving download speeds during peak hours of 89% of the advertised speeds.  During October 2011, the most recent month for which data is available, subscribers to Cablevision’s 15 Mbps service were receiving average download speeds during peaks hours at over 90% of the advertised speed. 

We will continue to measure actual broadband speeds across the country and will issue updated reports periodically.  We’re also turning our attention to another part of the consumer puzzle – How do I know what broadband speed I need? – and we’re working with Internet service providers and consumer groups to develop new, helpful ways to inform consumers.  We’re committed to bringing clear, accurate, and understandable data to the market for broadband service: It’s essential information for consumers, and, by rewarding actual performance and investment, it’s good for the industry as well.