As more and more Americans use the internet daily, a wildly varying set of usage patterns arises. Thus the Federal Communications Commission’s latest broadband report [PDF], released this week, may be infuriating to some citizens while others may shrug and go on with their days.
According to the report, U.S. broadband customers in 2009 received approximately half the speed they paid for. The report says that broadband service providers on average advertised median download speed of 8Mb/sec, with the median advertised download speed falling at 7Mb/sec. They actually delivered an average speed of 3Mb/sec and a median speed of 4Mb/sec.
Legally there’s unlikely to be any repercussions to cable internet providers, as the FCC notes that most providers advertise speeds of “up to xxx Mb/sec”. That squirrely phrase certain seems to have the intent to mislead, but it likely would not qualify as false advertising, thus customers may not have legal recourse if their speed come up short.
The FCC says a variety of factors including account congestion, network efficiency issues, website performance, and other external bottlenecks can bog down internet speeds. Thus the slower-than-suggested speed may not be entirely the service provider’s fault.
To some users who download video games via services like Valve or buy digital copies of/stream movies these slower speeds may be frustrating (not to mention for customers who conduct slightly less legal downloading activities). However, many users who just use the web for email and news may find the existing speeds sufficient.
The FCC found that the 1 percent of users who used the most data, used 25 percent of the total bandwidth. And the top 10 percent uses 70 percent of the bandwidth. These numbers are reflected in the disparity between the average usage — 9 GB/month — and the median usage — 2 GB/month.
The FCC is working with service providers, consumer groups, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to provide a roadmap to improve the internet. Part of that roadmap will include a push from the FCC for service providers to advertise their average speeds, not their maximum speeds.
Other recent reports by the FCC indicate that not only is advertised speed an issue, but availability as well. The FCC is also looking to roll out a national offering of 100 Mb/sec broadband to 100 million U.S. homes, with the infrastructure installation funded by sales of wireless spectrum. Those plans are slowly advancing, though construction on the substantial necessary new infrastructure has not yet started.