Internet Providers Delivering on Speed Promises, FCC Says

  • Consumers surfing Web at speeds they pay for most of the time
  • New cable technologies enabling faster download speeds

Internet providers are keeping promises made in advertising about faster download speeds, according to a report from the Federal Communications Commission.

Most of the time, consumers are streaming TV shows and surfing the Web at speeds they are paying for. Sometimes it’s even faster depending on the time of day or the geographic location of the home.

On the downside, there is an increasing gap between those with access to the fastest cable and fiber-based Internet services and those in rural areas who can only get online via satellite or a phone line. That’s why the FCC has been pushing companies to go even further, providing financial incentives to improve their offerings in the most remote parts of the country.

Ads for Internet speeds have spurred both consumer complaints and clashes between providers. In 2011, Verizon Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. settled a lawsuit over ads that Cablevision claimed misrepresented its speeds.

“Faster, better broadband will unleash new innovations and new services to improve the lives of the American people,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said.

Each time Internet download speeds and quality improved in the past, new businesses moved in, such as Netflix Inc., which has transformed the television market.

The FCC study found that cable services typically were the fastest for downloading, thanks to a new standard that marked a technological upgrade for the industry, with top performers Comcast Corp. and Cablevision. Most cable companies now offer download speeds topping 100 megabits per second, five times the rate available just a few years ago.

Fiber Internet access services led by Verizon’s FiOS aren’t far behind for downloads, and offer higher upload speeds for those who run home offices or send a lot of pictures. 

DSL, or digital subscriber line, services vary based on the distance between the home and the high-speed hub of the network. These are the most likely to over-promise what they can deliver, and it can be expensive and technologically difficult to upgrade systems, the FCC said.

Satellite providers tend to be conservative when it comes to promises, in part because their services are the slowest. There is an effort by companies like Elon Musk’s SpaceX to introduce a new generation of satellites that could provide faster Internet in the next few years.

This is the fifth year the FCC has surveyed thousands of households to measure their ability to access information and stream videos over the Internet. The agency uses boxes, similar to those that measure television viewing for ratings purposes, to test what speeds are available, compared with what the consumer paid for.

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