by Bill Snyder

Getting Your Money’s Worth from Your ISP? FCC Scorecard Helps Find Out

Jun 18, 20143 mins
Consumer ElectronicsInternet Service Providers

A new report from the FCC suggests the leading ISPs mostly deliver the speeds they promise, with a few notable exceptions. (Ahem, Verizon.)

You pay good money for the broadband connection to your home. But are you getting what you pay for? The answer, according to a new report from the FCC: it depends. It depends on your provider, and it depends on the type of technology your provider uses.

The good news is providers are getting better at meeting advertised speeds. The bad news is some customers are getting a lot less than they’re paying for.

Overall, and this isn’t surprising, DSL companies are still lagging behind cable and fiber broadband providers. That’s because DSL, which moves over copper wires, is inherently slower than cable or fiber, and is more expensive for providers to upgrade so they don’t do it very often, according to a senior FCC official who spoke to reporters during a related conference call.

“On average, during peak periods DSL-based services delivered download speeds that were 91 percent of advertised speeds, cable-based services delivered 102 percent of advertised speeds, fiber-to-the-home services delivered 113 percent of advertised speeds, and satellite delivered 138 percent of advertised speeds,” according to the FCC.

The worst performer was Verizon DSL; the company was the only ISP of the 16 measured that did not exceed its promised speed and lagged behind its competitors in every percentile. For example, 90 percent of its customers received download speeds of at least 50 percent of what was advertised, while 50 percent of AT&T’s DSL customers experienced 81 percent of the advertised speed.

Verizon has made no secret of the fact that it wants out of old-school, copper-based technologies, and it is worth noting that its more expensive and faster fiber offerings are much closer to meeting advertised speeds.

 “Consumers deserve to get what they pay for,” says FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “ While it’s encouraging to see that in the past these reports have encouraged providers to improve their services, I’m concerned that some providers are failing to deliver consistent speeds to consumers that are commensurate to their advertised speeds.  As a result, I’ve directed FCC staff to write to the underperforming companies to ask why this happened and what they will do to solve this,” he said in a written statement.

Unfortunately, the FCC report does not give actual speeds. The lengthy report is based on the percentage of advertised speeds in various tiers and at various times. Still, the data is useful.

Check out the chart above. The top row (it’s highlighted) represents a percentage of customers. The second row represents the percentage of average speed those customers are getting. For example, you can see that 20 percent of AT&T’s customers are getting at least 15 percent more than they are promised; while 50 percent are getting just a tad less than advertised. Some customers, though, are getting quite a bit less. A relatively small percentage (the data isn’t clear on how small) are getting less than 62 percent of what’s promised.  

If you check out the report, you’ll see that downloads speeds delivered by all the providers slow down during peak periods, but the falloff is just 3.9 percent on average.

Finally, if you’re considering satellite broadband, the good news is that providers are doing a better job of delivering what they promised, although satellite is generally relatively slow. Still, for consumers living in rural areas where broadband service is not available, satellite is becoming a better option.