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The FCC Says ISPs Aren't Hitting Advertised Speeds 228

MojoKid writes "The Federal Communications Commission has released the results of a year-long scientific study it conducted with regard to the upload and download speeds of thirteen American Internet service providers. Most of the ISPs hit 90 percent of their advertised upload speeds. Of the 13 providers tested, only four (or less than a third) averaged at or even above their advertised download speeds (Charter, Comcast, Cox, and Verizon Fiber). The tests were performed by a private firm that has run similar tests in the U.K. It measured performance at 6,800 'representative homes' nationally in March."
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The FCC Says ISPs Aren't Hitting Advertised Speeds

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  • Way Past it on FiOS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ksevio ( 865461 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @10:14AM (#37094074) Homepage

    On my Verizon FiOS connection, I can regularly hit 25mbps on my 15/5 line for file downloads and speed tests.

    I'm willing to bet that if I kept that up for extended periods it would drop down a lot, but it's fine for quickly downloading a Steam game once a month.

    • and it's right in the damn summary that Verizon is one of the four providers that actually meet/exceed their advertised speeds unlike Comcast/TimeWarner and others.

  • I know DSL, being an ATM-based technology and often subjected to PPPoE overhead, will score lower than rated. I have a 5 megabit connection but that's the sync rate. You can realistically expect to lose 9-10% just from the above overheads. That rather fits with the graphs I'm seeing.

    I've seen some ISPs compensate by setting the sync rate above the advertised rate but most don't.

    • That's all fine and well for techies who understand how it all works, but what about Mr. and Mrs. John Q public who want what they are paying for?
      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *
        Yeah it's like a car (what other analogy should I use?) being advertised as capable of doing 500mph except when you read the fine print or complain a techie comes out to explain that those tests were actually done in a vacuum and there's this little thing called wind resistance that limits the practical speed of your car to 100mph.
        • by msauve ( 701917 )
          No, it's more like a car being advertised as having a 200 hp engine, even though drivetrain losses result in only 170 wheel hp.
        • I think a better analogy is that the car is advertised with a top speed of 120MPH, but traffic conditions (other users) and speed limits (available bandwidth at any given time) don't guarantee the ability to reach those speeds.
          • by Bengie ( 1121981 )

            The even better car analogy is they advertise the car with a top speed of 65mph at red line, but that's with 19" rims, and the car only comes with 17" rims... and you can't change them.

      • by _0xd0ad ( 1974778 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @10:35AM (#37094324) Journal

        Mr. and Mrs. John Q Public seem to have gotten used to their cereal box being half-full because of settling during shipment.

        • Wish I could mod you up...
        • It's not a matter of just being ok with it, it's a matter of not being able to do anything about it. Where I live, your choices are Time Warner or dial-up. No matter how bad Time Warner can be (although it hasn't been that bad for me), there's no other game in town. They own the only infrastructure we have.
        • If the cereal was sold by volume rather than mass, you might have a point there.

          • Why do you think cereal is sold by mass rather than by volume?

            Answer: because people complained that their cereal box was half empty. Then the company said, "Well, our machines fill the boxes by weight, not volume. It's unavoidable." Mr. and Mrs. Joe Q Public said, "Oh, it's unavoidable you say? Okie dokie then."

            If anything, it's the technically-minded people who'll try to force the company to figure out a way of supplying the full amount that they think the company promised to sell them, not Mr. and Mrs. J

            • Making sure that the boxes are mostly full when they leave the warehouse is easy enough, the problem is that cereal can and does settle during shipment. It's also a lot harder for the manufacturer to cheat customers when they're selling a weight rather than a volume. Trying to determine when they were cheating the customer would be a real pain otherwise.

              • The bags inside cereal boxes are intentionally only part filled, the same as crisps (potato chips) and anything else that is packed in a plastic heat sealed bag. The reason for this isn't to con you by only filling it part way, it is so that when the bag is heat sealed there is a decent gap at the top. If the bags are filled too full then the contents can be close enough to interfere with the heat sealing, resulting in the bag not being air-tight and the contents going off.

                • Ok, this analogy has officially been over-extended. The point I was originally trying to make by it was, more or less, that if you tell Joe Public "there's nothing we can do, this is what you get, get used to it", he generally will. A technical user will respond with "but why is that the best you can do", and if there's a good enough answer, he'll generally get used to it too.

                  The DSL PPPoE overhead is one of those things that just is. It's unavoidable, just as unavoidable as cereal settling during shipping,

            • by JSBiff ( 87824 )

              "Why do you think cereal is sold by mass rather than by volume?"

              I prefer them selling by weight. If they sold by volume, they'd have an easier time cheating you, because they could probably, if they so desired, sell you 1/4 the weight of chips or cereal, and find a way to ensure it occupies the whole volume.

              If it's that important to you, turn the box or bag of chips upside-down and give it a few shakes. That should make it fill the original volume, more or less.

              I can't believe someone on slashdot could be s

        • Mr. and Mrs. John Q Public seem to have gotten used to their cereal box being half-full because of settling during shipment.

          Cereal is sold by weight, not by volume.

          • And DSL is sold by bandwidth with PPPoE overhead included, not by useable bandwidth after PPPoE overhead is subtracted.

            • That is in no way analogous to the cereal being sold by weight instead of volume. Counting unusable overhead is like the cereal companies counting the weight of the packaging.

              • If there weren't so many middlemen between you and the cereal factory, I guarantee you the weight of the boxes and plastic bags would be included in the freight cost of shipping it from the factory to your house. There are no middlemen between you and the DSL provider.

                It's not a perfect analogy, but it was good enough to get my point across.

        • Which is fine.

          Cereal boxes are sold by weight and not volume, there is thus no deception. After all, you can't make mass magically disappear, with the laws of physics and all. They don't even pretend to sell you more than what you're actually getting. They set it by pounds and ounces and you get exactly what you were entitled to expect.

          Internet bandwidth however is different.

          • Cereal may be sold by weight, but it is consumed by volume. Different cereals have wildly differing densities (e.g. Grape-Nuts vs. Rice Krispies), so the weight of a cereal box is not really a good indicator of how many bowls of cereal the box contains. The consumer's impression of how much cereal they're getting is still going to be based on the size of the box.

            Packaging exactly the same amount of cereal in a larger box is still deceptive even if its weight is listed. Perhaps not illegal, but deceptive. On

            • by Bengie ( 1121981 )

              "Cereal may be sold by weight, but it is consumed by volume. Different cereals have wildly differing densities (e.g. Grape-Nuts vs. Rice Krispies), so the weight of a cereal box is not really a good indicator of how many bowls of cereal the box contains. The consumer's impression of how much cereal they're getting is still going to be based on the size of the box."

              Ever sit down and eat 5 bowls of Rice Krispies?

              Next question.. Ever sit down and eat 5 bowls of Gape-Nuts? I would love to see you try.

              When I eat

              • Next question.. Ever sit down and eat 5 bowls of Gape-Nuts? I would love to see you try.

                Nah, I don't eat cereal that resembles rabbit food and tastes like pellets of pressed sawdust.

                I have, however, probably sat down and eaten 5 bowls of bran flakes or shredded wheat, which are pretty dense. But, your point is well-taken.

                I'm pretty sure we've exhausted the usefulness of that analogy.

    • Yes, DSL tends to take a hit from various types of overhead. It's been a while since I dealt with it on a daily basis but I believe that a regular g.dmt connection (8/0.8 Mbps) loses around 15% from overhead when using Ethernet over ATM and TCP. So you'll never see more than 5.9 Mbps or so downstream with TCP...

    • by Burdell ( 228580 )

      I work for an independent ISP that wholesales BellSouth (AT&T) DSL service. When we order a 6m down/512k up circuit, the sync rates are up to 8128k down and 512k up. I guess that's because most end users still primarily care about the download speed (as long as Netflix works they're happy I suppose).

      • Qwest gives the same amount of bandwidth up whether regardless of what plan you're on. Which is good to know now if I want to downgrade.

  • Apparently the ISP that supplies /. [] is one of the slow ones.
  • I'd like to know where they tested Charter at. If you're in a relatively sparse area they're great, but here in Madison, WI, they fucking suck. I have "21 meg" or some shit and at most I pull down between 2 and 5. Between the hours of 5 and 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening, it's damn near unusable because everybody in the city comes home and starts streaming Hulu and Netflix and I'll be lucky to pull down 700k, and the latency spikes like you wouldn't believe. The techs themselves tell me never to expect t

    • by Covener ( 32114 )

      I'd like to know where they tested Charter at. If you're in a relatively sparse area they're great, but here in Madison, WI, they fucking suck. I have "21 meg" or some shit and at most I pull down between 2 and 5. Between the hours of 5 and 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening, it's damn near unusable because everybody in the city comes home and starts streaming Hulu and Netflix and I'll be lucky to pull down 700k, and the latency spikes like you wouldn't believe. The techs themselves tell me never to expect to hit the speeds I'm told I'll get, because that's not "real-world use."

      So if I'm never going to get that speed in practical application, why again are they allowed to advertise said speed?

      Sounds pretty likely by the ambiguous units in your post that your expectations are inflated by a factor of 8 because you're misunderstand the units of what's advertised vs. the units in what you're observing.

      • I'm told I get 21 meg (mbps, megabits per second, kinda figured that was understood, since that's the units everyone uses, including Charter). Never in my life, hardlined, have I gotten that speed, on multiple speed tests, including Charter's own. Not even the burst speeds get close.

        The speed tests are also in units of megabits per second. I know the difference between a bit and byte.

        • by Bengie ( 1121981 )

          In central WI, I'm getting 19mbps on my 18mbps Charter connection. Even during peak.

          Their back-bone infrastructure is quite good, so I would assume it's an overloaded node. You guys DOCSIS3.0 yet down there in Mad town?

          Also, check into their business packages. I've heard in other forums that business connection take different routes than residential and you get nearly no jitter at all.

    • by garcia ( 6573 )

      I live in a major metropolitan area (MSP) and I have business class from Charter. I am usually at 125 to 150% of my downstream and 100% of my upstream.

      Sorry it sucks for you. I've been there with many different carriers over the years (Verizon DSL, RR, ATTBI, Frontier DSL to name a few) and Charter is the most solid, fastest, and definitely has the best customer response (I only contact them via Twitter) that I have ever had before.

      Granted I have business class and that may make a difference so YMMV.

    • by JSBiff ( 87824 )

      "So if I'm never going to get that speed in practical application, why again are they allowed to advertise said speed?"

      At a guess, they probably advertise it as, "UP TO" 21mbps.

      All they have to show is that the tech can theoretically reach that speed in the best case scenario, I would suppose, in order to do "up to" advertising. Not that I think they should be allowed to advertise "up to" speeds, but that seems to be how it works right now.

      I'd love the FTC (Federal Trade Commission - IIRC they regulate adve

  • by shoppa ( 464619 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @10:25AM (#37094218)
    Geeze... going back in time... a 1.5 Mbit T1 connection, while actually a continuous 1.5 Mbit connection, never quite delivered that much speed when it was hooked to "the internet" and expected to move TCP/IP traffic. Same for 10 Mbit Ethernet (and that was never a true bidirectional 10 Mbits to begin with).

    Protocol overhead always nibbles away at the edges.
    • Yes, but unless the ISP is hiring incompetent engineers, they should have enough of a grasp on the amounts that they can get pretty damn close to the amount that they can actually provide. This would change very quickly if ISPs were held accountable for false and misleading advertisements.

    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      never quite is very different from rarely exceeds 25% rated capabilities, and you will get TOS'd for even that level of utilization if run continuously
  • Although I'm only one datapoint, my Optimum Boost (Cablevision) service north of NYC almost always hits the 50d/8u Mbps that I'm paying for ($15 over base service for the higher speeds). When I've had issues, they've always been catastrophic ones (no signal due to bad connector on the utility pole, etc.) rather than just slowdowns.
    • Lucky you. I'm north of NYC as well, and with Boost I get around 15-20 down (22 is the highest I've ever seen). I switched to boost after several solid months of Optimum clocking in around .5 - 2 down (up has never been a problem).

    • by kent_eh ( 543303 )
      Hmmm, I just did a test and I tested at 12Mbps down, 0.48Mbps up.
      My ISP ( promises :

      * Up to 7.5 Mbps download speed
      * Up to 512 Kbps upload speed
      * 125 GB monthly transfer limit

      So I guess I'm doing ok...
  • When I visit, I get faster speeds to Fiber Internet Center in Palo Alto, CA (21 Mbps down) than I get from Comcast in Denver, CO (9 Mbps down), even though I live within 30 miles of Denver and use Comcast for my 12 Mbps high speed internet connection. Anyone able to explain that one?

  • Well, I don't hit the advertised speeds. I am provisioned at 7mb down and 896k up. On a good day I get 6mb down but the upstream seems fairly consistent. However, this is a lot better than the leading cable company, Cox. Cox was a nightmare to deal with so I'll gladly put up with Qwest because I have no other choice. At least Qwest is less evil and doesn't engage in port blocking and require you to buy a small business package for a static IP to stop port blocking.
    • That was my reasoning for going with Qwest. I'm not surprised that they're at the bottom of giving what they're advertising. But, they don't block ports and they don't have caps, so I'm largely stuck with them. Comcast was complete crap back when they provided our internet. Every single time that somebody would buy rights to provide our cable modem service the service got worse. By the time that Comcrap got a hold of it things got to the point where it would be out 3-4 hours literally every day.

      Qwest at lea

  • by grimmjeeper ( 2301232 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @10:45AM (#37094418) Homepage

    I have an "Up To 12 Mb" connection through my local cable company. I get exactly that. Somewhere between nothing and 12 Mb. I certainly never get more than that. But given that they advertise it as a "you might get as much as X bandwidth", I don't see how you can say they aren't giving me what they promised.

    • Because it's common practice for companies to include weasel words like that so that nobody can sue them, even when it's understood by everybody involved that they are in fact promising to provide the connection. By your logic, there's no need for an ISP promising to provide 5mbps for a 5mbps connection when they could just provide the same 1.5mbps connection that they provide to the folks on the 1.5mbps plan.

      If they aren't able to provide the connection, they're still engaging in fraudulent advertising.

      • I see your point. There should be some differentiation between a 5 and 1.5 mbps connection. And if there isn't, then you might have grounds for a suit.

        However, one of the reasons ISPs put in the "up to" clause in their speed rating is that they are not in 100% control of your entire internet experience. They do supply the connection to your house and then on to "the internet". Once your connection goes out of their zone of influence, they have no control over it. Your traffic can be slowed through chok

  • I think location is more important than the company. I've worked for Charter before, and they do a fantastic job in some places, but not so great in others (especially new acquisitions.)

    My mom has Charter, and her advertised speed is 8Mbps down and 1Mbps up, but whenever I run tests on her connections, it's consistently about twice that.

    I have Time Warner where I live, and I usually get about 80% of of my average speed (15Mbps rated, 12Mbps tested.)

    With that in mind, Charter is probably better at maintaini

    • by dave562 ( 969951 )

      I'm in a similar situation. I have the basic Charter internet connection. I think they promise up to 8Mb or 10Mb. I consistently get close to 20Mb.

  • by ZeroNullVoid ( 886675 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @10:48AM (#37094456)
    Most of the providers who hit their advertised speeds implement a burst-based traffic shaping.

    For example, Comcast does full or over-full speed for first 10mb down and 5mb up.

    It's nice that speedtest sites like show a graph of how speed changes, but their test sizes are still far to small and should exclude any detected burst speeds.

    The only good way to test this is to actually transfer files and exclude the bursts.

    Another thing that SHOULD be tested is the speed difference with single threaded transfers and segmented/multi-threaded transfers for both same continent and cross-seas.

    Internet speed is relative and that is part of the problem.
  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @10:57AM (#37094540) Homepage

    I _can_ hit wirespeed from my ISP (AT&T DSL), but only during off-peak hours. During rushhour (late afternoon, evening, esp Sunday), I'm lucky to get ~1/4 wirespeed.

    I'm sure this is AT&T overselling their infrastructure (Uverse) and has choked the uplink fiber from my DSLAM. YMMV -- not everybody will be choked. But I doubt the FCC measured this congestion.

    • by sconeu ( 64226 )

      Single data point.

      DSLReports speed test always gives me about 11.5Mbps on my 12Mbps U-Verse line.

      Suburban Los Angeles.

  • Comcast (Score:5, Interesting)

    by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @11:07AM (#37094644) Journal
    When I had issues with my Comcast cable internet connection, it was taking me about 5 minutes to load Google's home page, 10 minutes for the home page. Slashdot took about 7 minutes. I went to three different independent speed test sites, which each confirmed I was getting less than 5% of the bandwidth Comcast advertised. I called them up and they directed me to a flash animation that looked like an analog gauge of a car speeding up onto the freeway, overshooting the advertised bandwidth, wavering a bit to make it look like it was actually measuring something and leveling off at exactly the advertised bandwidth. I reloaded it a couple times, and each time it was the exact same animation. The rep then said, "can you read me what it says on the dial? Looks like your connection is working just fine. The sites you are trying to visit must not have enough bandwidth to handle the connection." I asked if she'd ever heard of a little company named Google, and she said they must be having network trouble on their end.
  • Mine advertises 30Mbps and I routinely spike to 45Mbps, so I'm kind of on the other side of this coin. I have no idea how they get me so much speed out here in the country, but I'll take it.

    • You're lucky, I'd kill to have even half of the stated bandwidth you're getting. Around here connections top out at 5mbps. And that's assuming that you're in a part of the city where Qwest feels that you deserve access to more than 1.5mbps connections. Centurylink took them over, so I'll have to see how they do in terms of fixing the problems.

      I'm not optimistic as I've never received better service after a buyout.

  • Just switched from comcast to qwest. Have to say that their bandwidth positively SUX. We even have 20 mb vs. the 12 that comcast advertises. And yet, this is slower than comcast. Sad. Real sad.

    Hopefully, they have better uptime than comcast (comcast has so many outages; glad that I ran my own bind; their always had issues in their DNS).
  • The FCC Says ISPs Aren't Hitting Advertised Speeds

    An I'm, like, no shit, Sherlock? In other news, people get hurt in car crashes.

    • It's obvious to geeks, however this kind of thing is just a first step towards telling ISPs that they had better provide the bandwidth they're charging for. That is unless the GOP wins big in the next elections in which case it's back to dial up speeds for us.

  • Did they send a burst of nops over port 80 for 1 second on tuesday at 4am? Any details on the tests would be great. Without something specific about the tests the information is bullshit. Give us something useful like sustained side by side TCP and UDP data transfers over multiple ports for at least 350 days. Here is the results of my "data". Cable and dsl do not meet their advertised marks while fiber does. My data --> cuz_i_sed.txt.

  • by Skapare ( 16644 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @11:47AM (#37095166) Homepage

    ... cheat, steal, and lie. Old news. Move along.

  • 5Mbs both ways, and their customer service has been excellent. I've had them for internet about 13 yrs now.
  • by quixote9 ( 999874 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @11:56AM (#37095310) Homepage
    Before participation: Time Warner/Roadrunner here in Southern California gave me less than a tenth of advertised speeds. Officially 7mbits down, 1mb up, the actual service was more like 400kbits. Up to 800kb, sometimes even over a whole megabite early in the morning. (Exciting!) After the initial burst, which hit over a megabit down fairly often, there were times when it slowed all the way to single digits in KB.

    Under the Sam Knows program, the FCC lets the ISPs know which subscribers are part of the test. (Bit of a problem right there, I'd say.) A few days before we had the government router hooked up, no doubt when Time Warner got word of our new "status," our speeds suddenly shot up into the advertised range. I nearly swooned the first time I saw a download go by at over a megabyte. And, interestingly enough, they've stayed there. It wasn't just some random thing. We don't usually get 7mb, but 5-6mb is the norm now.

    So the info that ISPs aren't delivering stated speeds even in the FCC study is interesting, given that they seem to be jimmying the results for all they're worth.

    (Speed tests before the FCC program would show us getting multi-megabits that we never saw in real life. Two things there: burst-shaping, no doubt, and I've heard that ISPs have ways of recognizing speed test traffic and giving it bandwidth.)
    • by dave562 ( 969951 )

      Where did you find information that the FCC let the ISPs know which subscribers are participating? I also took part in the study and I was expecting that sort of thing to happen, but I never saw anything to confirm it.

  • * Where one megabit equals one million bits.

  • by StormReaver ( 59959 ) on Monday August 15, 2011 @01:08PM (#37096290)

    I recently watched a PBS special about broadband, which indicated the UK's system is setup so that most households have a choice of multiple broadband providers, where high speed starts in at least 2-digit megabits per second, and the monthly cost is almost trivially low (I forgot the actual costs that were mentioned).

    Although the lines are owned primarily by an oligopoly of companies (AT&T, Verizon, and British Telecom were the three mentioned), they are required by law to lease the lines to competitors. Not only that, but Verizon, AT&T, and BT all wholeheartedly endorse the the concept of being required to lease their lines to competitors. Spokespeople for those companies all said that the required competition kept them working to improve their respective services.

    The special also said that the companies are investing in massive new outlays of fiber optics across the country so that even very remote and sparsely populated outlying areas get fast Internet.

    Now shift to the U.S., where Verizon and AT&T are fighting tooth and nail against regulations that would provide the same level of service and network expansion going on in the UK, and where 3mb DSL is considered high speed (by AT&T).

    It just drove home how royally screwed we are in the U.S.

  • You're tanking in the polls. The Republicans hate you because you are not a Republican. The Tea Party hates you because you are not white enough. The progressives hate you because you've betrayed all of your campaign promises to them. The whole country hates you because the economy is tanking due to your collusion with the Republicans to transfer even more wealth to the corporate elite.

    If you want any hope of re-election we have to throw the progressives a bone. You have got to make it look like

  • I guess my submission was not significantly negative enough to make it through the moderator filter. I was surprised to see that the large majority of the ISPs are able to give 90% of their advertised rate during peak times. I'm with Charter and despite being on their lowest tier, I get close to 20Mb on a regular basis.

    As much as people like to bitch and moan on here, I think you're all a bunch of babies. Mod me flamebait all you want. If you're getting more than 15Mb and still whining about it not bein

  • they should check the ones that get hit the most by hiked prices...the us and canada....where they pay the most for the might lead to class action lawsuits by the "people" and lead to a better regulated industry. I sure hope that someone picks up this mantle...

  • Frontier bought the local fiber from Verizon... oh, a year ago I think. I regularly test upload/download speeds and it's always been slightly more (approx 5%) than advertised. With Verizon, and before that Comcast, I would periodically (every one to three months) see download speed drop to a lower tier. (Measured consistently from several tries.) A call to the ISP, they "re-provision" my line and my speed would return. I suspect that this isn't an accident. Enough people wouldn't notice a speed decrea

    • What I wrote wasn't clear. "slightly more (approx 5%) than advertised" means that although I'm paying for 20M, (fiber) I'm actually measuring a little over 21 Mb/sec.

Today is the first day of the rest of your lossage.