FCC Head Has Plans for Broadband Firms Lagging on Promised Speeds

By Steve Anderson June 20, 2014

It's been something of a problem lately, for people looking to get high-speed Internet access, that the speeds promised in advertisements aren't exactly the speeds that come across. Some slowdown would make sense; network congestion and things like that understandably and naturally play a part in the final speed that reaches users. But for some, it's a downright rarity to get anywhere near promised speeds. Now, new Federal Communications Commission head Tom Wheeler, has a plan to help shore those speeds up, and it involves...shame.

Thankfully, the number of firms having this problem seems to be on the decline. The 2014 Measuring Broadband America index—an index that makes this exact measure—noted that for the most part, companies are delivering as promised with some bumps along the road. On average, DSL companies reach about 91 percent of advertised rates during peak hours, and cable services hit an average of 102 percent. Satellite companies do the best at 138 percent. Broadband firms in aggregate, meanwhile, hit about 97 percent of the target during peak hours, and on average deliver about 101 percent of total advertised speed. The peak hour figure is tied for last year at 97 percent, and up from 2012's 96 percent.

But as is commonly the case with the total, there are always outliers. Comcast, Cox and Time Warner all did better than advertised speed on peak hours, reaching 113 percent, 110 percent and 101 percent respectively, but some real drags on the ticket arrived from Verizon, AT&T, and Windstream. Verizon got just 80 percent of advertised speeds, AT&T only 79 percent and Windstream a depressing 78 percent.

Wheeler's response to these matters is best expressed by his own remarks, in which he said: “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.”

Perhaps it's just a matter of perspective, but somehow this doesn't sound threatening. These places aren't delivering what was promised in advertising, and the FCC's response is an unpleasant letter that companies don't seem to be under any obligation to address, answer, or even open and read. What seems to be notably lacking from the FCC's plans is any kind of punishment, sanction, or correction incentive. If this were just the first step in a larger plan in which actual punishment were levied against companies—like having to contribute to a fund for broadband startups--that might be different. But the FCC's plan in its current form appears to have all the teeth of a newborn tiger cub.

It's good that the FCC is taking an interest, but without the proper backup, this interest will go nowhere. The FCC needs to make it easier for new firms to open up in different markets, perhaps by forbidding local monopolies, and allow the market to do the rest. There's an encouraging note from recent huge new FCC fines, but if people could actually make the threat of “I'm taking my business elsewhere!” stick, then many of these problems would likely clear up. Google Fiber can't do the job alone; we need more choices in the market to get the most out of broadband Internet access as we know it. We've already seen the greater push toward gigabit fiber since Google started rolling its service out; that kind of competition can help in broadband and DSL too. More competition is just what the market needs.

Contributing TechZone360 Writer

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