Who Knows Broadband Speeds?
Sam Knows.

Posted by: Bob Quinn on August 2, 2011 at 11:44 am

So, the FCC/Sam Knows “Measuring Broadband America” speed test is finally finished and guess what?  The Sam Knows results, which measured the actual speeds provided by ISPs to their subscribers, demonstrates that American consumers are getting the broadband speeds they’re paying for.  For example, most major broadband providers deliver actual speeds that are “generally 80% to 90% of advertised maximum speeds or better.”  And even during peak usage periods (7pm to 11pm on weeknights), ISPs were still able to deliver actual speed that are “80% of advertised maximum speeds or better.”  These results, based on data from monitoring equipment installed in consumer homes and in ISP networks, debunk the conventional mythology that ISPs are delivering far less than the speeds they advertise.  Unfortunately, that mythology grew out of an unscientific and unreliable report that was picked up and repeated by some credible sources in the past, even making its way into the National Broadband Plan.  Of course, real facts will not be enough to satisfy everyone.  Some of the so-called public interest groups actually began bashing the report a couple of weeks ago (apparently you don’t have to actually see a report before you begin attacking its findings).  Like other conspiracy theorists, those consumer groups are wedded to the mythology and won’t let things like pesky facts get in their way.  

But you have to hand it to the FCC.  True to the Chairman’s word, he was not satisfied with guesswork and instead insisted on conducting a fact-based inquiry into what was really happening in the marketplace.  The results are in, and it’s clear that consumers are getting high-quality broadband services from their ISPs.  Perhaps now we can get past the rhetoric about advertised vs. actual speeds and focus on the important task of ensuring all Americans have access to these broadband services.  Reforming the universal service program to provide support for broadband, making more spectrum available for mobile broadband services, and, of course, approving the AT&T / T-Mobile merger, which will enable the combined company to deploy LTE to 97% of the U.S. population, would all be big steps the FCC could take toward the goal of making broadband ubiquitous in America.  SamKnows has shown us what broadband can do where it’s available; the challenge now is to make sure everyone has an opportunity to use it.

Comments (6)

Hi Bob,

Is AT&T ok with its delivered speeds only being about 80 percent of what its customers pay for? Other providers seemed to turn in a better performance. Will AT&T commit to improving to 100% like Comcast or Verizon FiOS?

I realize it is in your best interest to put a great face on this, but out here in the real world, most consumers think businesses should deliver on their promises, or either revise those promises to reflect reality.

You disparage consumer advocates for saying, based on the best available evidence, that actual speeds were “far less” than advertised speeds. Well Bob, if the 80% that AT&T turned in is not in fact “far less,” what percentage would be? If AT&T paid you 80% of your salary, would that be “far less” than what you were owed, or would your concern about not getting what you were promised be a part of some “mythology?”

p.s. nice try on the 97% LTE deployment. But as everyone in the country is starting to realize, that’s just AT&T promising to do what it was going to do anyways. In other words, it is mythology.

Derek Turner August 2, 2011 at 3:19 pm

@Derek: I don’t know where you live, but assuming you live in a big city with its share of traffic congestion, would you complain that you’re not able to drive the “posted limit” of (say) 55 MPH even during rush hour?

I would say getting even 80% of 55 MPH during rush hour would be doing pretty good. And just as was the case in this study, I imagine “average” speed on highways probably varies by city — should that serve as a basis for complaining that some cities do better than others?

I guess one could always move . . .

txpatriot August 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

As you know Derek, we offer speed tiers to our consumers with minimum and maximum speed characteristics and strive to provide quality services to our customers that meet those ranges. I say you should know because we developed those minimum speed levels with FreePress’ encouragement (and your personal involvement, as I recall). What the Sam Knows data shows rather conclusively is that all of our products deliver the service as advertised. With DSL technology, the speed achieved varies depending on a number of factors including length of the copper loop used to provide the service (how far away from the central office is the individual customer). Our U-Verse platform High Speed Internet Access Service, which data is captured in the higher speed tier Sam Knows data, is a more efficient technology with shorter copper loop lengths. The improved efficiency is reflected in the results which range from 87%-92% of maximum speed. But all of those numbers for both DSL and U-Verse are well within the service ranges that we sell. We strive to accurately describe to our customers exactly what we are providing. I respectfully disagree with your assertion that our service descriptions do not match “reality.” I believe that this data demonstrates conclusively that you are flat wrong on that point.

Bob Quinn August 2, 2011 at 5:42 pm

AT&T’s claims lack merit. The broadband revolution in the U.S. has been postponed because the telecom/cable duopoly is holding us back. Limited competition, reduced consumer choices, subpar service (too many are under-served they have broadband but access could be better or are unserved) high prices and reduced investments by the giant providers are holding us back. We need/want open and universal access to be available for all who want it. Broadband prices need to be more affordable and we need more competition not less.

The U.S. Government made a mistake allowing AT&T in the 2000s to reconstitute the former Ma Bell wire-line phone monopoly by re-merging with Baby Bells SBC Communications and Bell South. Now the Ma Bell communications monopoly wants to create a Ma Cell that will set consumers back 30 years and make the cellular phone market a duopoly of just 2 companies AT&T and Verizon controlling 80% of the market. The FCC has a mandate to only approve mergers in the public interest. AT&T’s mergers do not serve the public but AT&T is lying and trying to win public support to get approval for the mergers with T Mobil USA and Qualcomm which individually are both bad but together much worse. AT&T says let us create Ma Cell and is making empty promises to give everyone broadband. Don’t be fooled!

Maneesh Pangasa August 2, 2011 at 9:38 pm

My mother has the AT&T U-verse service advertised at 6 Mbps but she does not get 6 Mbps. Instead, she is getting 7 Mbps whenever I test the speed.

I have looked over all the numbers from the FCC report and their peak hour sustained speeds for AT&T’s higher tiered U-verse services average around 90%.

The older DSL technology has the problem of payload speed being roughly 83% of the DSL sync rate for 3 Mbps tiers or below. Higher speed DSL services typically differ even more from the advertised rate because of higher error rates and higher difficulty in achieving the higher DSL sync rates. We see this reflected in the DSL services from AT&T and Verizon.

The Fiber to the Node (FTTN) services like AT&T U-verse actually syncs at 25 Mbps or higher and the ISP caps the bandwidth at the speed tier purchased by the customer.

George Ou August 3, 2011 at 1:48 am

To think, I actually thought that you guys over the pond were getting better broadband than us. I guess I will have to put up with my 120MB line. As for a 6MB line, whats that all about. The lowest I know of here now is 10. You guys in the states need to stop moaning about the percentage of whats promised, and moan about getting higher promises. I am averaging about 90MB of the 120 so 75%.

Roy Hornyak May 22, 2012 at 3:58 am

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