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Broadband Speed: When Ignorance is Costly

June 2nd, 2010 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

For several months, the FCC has been working to help consumers get more information about the communications services they buy. Our Notice of Inquiry last August asked how we can help consumers make more informed choices about phone, television, and broadband services. That Notice brought out a lot of good ideas from public interest groups, the communications industries, and consumers themselves.

This year, we’ve followed up with a number of consumer initiatives coordinated by the FCC’s Consumer Task Force. We’ve written letters to wireless carriers about their early termination fees, taken on the problem of bill shock, and started to look at broadband speed.

Today, we’re releasing the results of a national survey that shows just how large the information gap is when it comes to broadband. According to this survey, fully 80 percent of Americans with broadband at home don’t know what speed they’re getting. This survey was done through a major firm and drew on a national sample of three thousand consumers.

This ignorance can be costly: The difference between a low-cost, slower broadband plan and a high-speed, more expensive one can be hundreds of dollars a year. In order to get the best service at the best value, consumers first need to understand what broadband speed they need for the applications they want to run. In addition, broadband service providers need to advertise their speeds in clear terms, and consumers need to be assured that the speeds they actually receive match what’s advertised. While broadband providers now advertise “blazing fast” internet service at “up to” a certain speed, that’s not specific enough to help consumers make informed choices.

Today, we’re taking two steps to help both consumers and service providers learn more about how broadband speed is being delivered:

It will take the FCC, public interest groups, and broadband service providers working together to help consumers understand their “need for speed.” The Cable Television Association, and several other broadband service providers, have already supported the FCC’s efforts to develop scientific tests of home broadband speed. We’re confident that we can all work together in the months ahead to turn consumer ignorance into consumer information.

[Cross-posted from Blogband]

4 Responses to “Broadband Speed: When Ignorance is Costly”

  1. Guest says:


    On your main page you imply that i have a choice on broadband providers. I dont. Charter cable is all that is offered where i live. They routinely take more that 10 seconds to resolve a DNS query, the bandwidth of the connection is spotty at best.

    I have no choice but to put up with it. So stop acting as though its all about choice, because its not.

  2. Randy Tyler says:

    Regarding the above slow DNS resolution issue comment, you may want to try Steve Gibson's excellent freeware DNS Benchmark Utility to determine the fastest Public DNS servers to use (see GRC.com). After changing your DNS servers (to faster ones), use Gibson's Online Spoofability Test (in essence checks for ID and port randomization used) to check the DNS Servers you have chosen.

    Hope this helps.
    Randy Tyler
    Pioneering Online Volunteering Program Development Since 1998

  3. Sam F says:

    I live in Edenton NC and since I am a gamer I need a fast speed but medaicom is the only big company here with the speeds I need or I thought they would have them. Paying for (up to term so they can give you low speeds and get away with it) up to 20mb download and every day around 4-5 until 11-12:30 I am getting 2-5 mb downlaod speeds which is horible been contacting their tech support for awhile to no avail, I know what the problem is they need to upgrade the node to support the bandwidth cause this never used to happen and its getting gradually worse. Wish a company with dedicated internet would come out here or the FCC would make these companies give the customers what they pay for.

  4. Paul C says:

    I am glad to se the FCC is taking a look at broadband speed and cable companies in general. I live in an area of NE Ohio where there is no choice of cable companies and Time Warner seems to take considerable advantage of their monopoly in the area. It sure would be nice to see a system whereby the cable companies would have to compete with one another on a daily basis for my business.

    Trouble service is ineffective and time consuming. I pay for "Turbo" high speed access that they advertise at 13,000 kbs & up. It is rare to test at or above that speed and more frequently tests at speeds in the mid range or their intermediate speed. Once I downgraded to their intermediate speed with the thought at least I would get speeds I was paying for. That didn't happen, my speeds dropped to a level consistent with the lowest tier speed plan.

    Complaints about their speeds usually take over an hour and they never find any particular problem that immediately increases speed. Usually a day after a complaint my speeds would increase to about the bottom end of the high end range or the high end of the mid level. After a month, my speeds usually drop back down again and continue to drop to the lowest tier level before I bite the bullet to waste another hour to complain. I made a complaint a few weeks ago and presently my speed is still fairly good, 12,650 KB on your site, but still not above the advertised speed.

    My other complaint about Time Warner is the volume on their television broadcasts nearly doubles during commercials. A few years ago when I lived in an apartment I got frequent complaints for excessive volume on my TV. On some evenings I would fall asleep during a show when the volume was acceptable. I am a sound sleeper and did not wake up when volume increased for a commercial. My neighbors did though. Now I am in a house where I am not at risk of being evicted, but the volume increase is still annoying and I don't think it does my TV speakers any good either.

    I also believe that I pay considerably more for the level of service and content than I am getting. For basic cable and HS internet I pay $ 76.00/mo. For that I typically get about 3-4 channels worth watching, but with lots of show repetitions, and internet service that averages about 7500 kbs.

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