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FCC Survey: Most Americans OK With Broadband Speed

By: John Eggerton, Broadcasting & Cable

Four out of five Americans don't know their broadband speeds, but the vast majority of users seem to be satisfied with whatever speed it is.

That is according to a new FCC study released June 1. But the FCC wants more data from users as it tries to give them more info on what speeds they are being sold, what speeds they are getting, and what they will need in a world of streaming video and gamers galore. 

Could the end-product be a broadband speed version of the MPG sticker on a new car? The FCC is not ruling it out.

According to the survey, which is part of the FCC's initiative to get a better handle on actual broadband speeds compared to advertised speeds, nine in ten (91%) of respondents said they were either very or somewhat satisfied with the speed they got at home. That number was only 71% for mobile broadband, which is not capable of comparable speeds.

The commission also launched two initiatives to better determine those speeds, which was one of the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan.

The FCC is asking for 10,000 volunteers to participate in a study to measure home broadband speed using hardware that will be installed in their homes across all major ISPs. The results will be compiled in a report, called "State of Broadband," to be issued next year. 

Second, the FCC is issuing a public notice on ways to measure mobile broadband. "Ultimately, the FCC hopes to develop tests that help each individual consumer in the U.S. determine his or her own broadband speed," the agency said. 

The FCC took the first steps toward that goal back in March, when it provided two speed test consumers could use for their wireless phones. 

The survey was of 3,005 adults polled between April 19 and May 2. At a press conference following the survey's release, Joel Gurin, chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, said the in-home test would gather a raft of data on everything from latency and jitter (which refer to transmission time) to how fast particular Websites load, though he said there would be measures to insure consumer privacy. 

He did not say whether operators would know exactly when and where they were being monitored, though he did say operators would have input on methodology, and that the FCC was already talking with carriers about the test and expects them to weigh in with some "very productive ideas."

He said the goal of the test is to help consumers understand what speeds they need and what speeds they are getting, including more precise terms than the industry's "blazing fast" and "up to" qualifiers. 

"We believe we need a marketplace where broadband speed is transparent, advertised accurately and understood," he said. If operators are going to compete on speed, people need to know what speeds they need for, say, gaming or streaming video or VoIP, what speeds they are being offered, and what speeds they are actually getting.

He acknowledged that one of the reasons ISPs use the "up to" terminology is that speeds can be affected by many variables outside their control, like the age of the router, or the speed of the computer, or now many people in the house are online at the same time.

That was one of the industry's issues with the comScore data the FCC used in the National Broadband Plan to indicate that users were only getting about half the advertised speed. Gurin said the FCC acknowledged those issues, which was why it was conducting the new test to get better and more scientific data.

The FCC test will be of delivery speeds, which means the speed delivered to the house and before the mitigating factors like number of users or type of equipment, said Gurin.

Asked whether there could be regulation at the end of the process -- say, a broadband speed sticker on ISP service -- Gurin said it was too early to tell but that that was a possibility, as the National Broadband Plan suggested it might be. 

"The FCC survey shows that 91 percent of subscribers -- an overwhelming majority -- are satisfied with the speed of their broadband service, a conclusion that is entirely consistent with many other surveys," said National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow.

"The survey also found that many consumers do not know the exact speed of their broadband service. That is not a surprising result for a competitive marketplace in which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) of all sizes are consistently upgrading their networks and boosting the speed of their broadband services. Even if customers are not able to keep track of these improvements, the survey confirms that they are pleased with the results," he said. 

McSlarrow said the industry has been "fully engaged" with the FCC and others to come up with a better performance measure. "We support the initiatives announced by the Commission today so that consumers will benefit from uniform broadband speed comparisons among competing providers," he said.
 "CTIA is pleased the FCC's survey confirmed what numerous other third-party surveys have concluded: that 92% of American consumers are satisfied with their wireless service," said the wireless association's president, Steve Largent. "As a result of the billions of dollars spent annually to improve wireless network coverage and speed, consumers continue to benefit from an increasingly robust wireless broadband experience and reap the benefits of this innovative wireless ecosystem. 

"As the Commission seeks comment on wireless broadband networks speeds, it will find that the variety of factors that wireless network engineers contend with every day -- such as congestion, the mobility of wireless subscribers, weather conditions and the consumer's chosen wireless device -- all bear on the speeds a consumer receives, by the second, on a wireless broadband network." 


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