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FCC: Most Broadband Streaming Speeds as Advertised

19 Jun, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

There apparently is truth in advertising when it comes to broadband speeds in the United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The government agency June 18 released its fourth annual report (since 2011) measuring third-party cable, satellite, fiber-optic and telecom broadband speeds in an effort to bring “greater clarity” and competition to the home broadband services marketplace.

“Consumers deserve to get what they pay for,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.

And getting faster streaming speeds for video content over the Internet into homes is what consumers — notably Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime subs — are looking for.

Among ISP service tiers surveyed in 2013, the average advertised speed was around 21.2 megabits per second for downloads, which represented an increase of about 36% from 15.6 Mbps in 2012, according to the FCC.

The report found that cable, telecom and fiber optic services generally delivered the streaming bit rates advertised — when available. DSL services, however, generally underperformed in delivering advertised streaming speeds.

“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,” Wheeler 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.”

Meanwhile, New York-based Cablevision, which ranks atop Netflix’s monthly ISP speed index, delivered 100% or better of its advertised streaming speed 80% of the time during peak periods. About half the ISPs delivered about 90% or better of their advertised speed, and several ISPs delivered less than 60% or better of advertised speeds 80% of the time.

In addition, while most consumers are willing to pay for faster download speeds due to a disproportionate desire to download — not upload — video content, the government found that Verizon and Frontier Communications offer upload speeds (from 25 Mbps) more than twice that of the next ISP (about 10 Mbps).

This is the first time the FCC included the frequency of ISPs achieving their advertised streaming speed to consumers during peak periods. All ISPs, with the exception of Windstream Communications, were within 10% of last year’s streaming speeds.

The Little Rock, Ark.-based telecom delivered just 78% of its advertised streaming speed — lowest among all ISPs. Interestingly, Windstream and Frontier surpassed Verizon in Netflix’s most-recent ISP index.

“We expect ISPs to improve upon consistency over the course of the next year and we will focus on this issue in the future,” the FCC wrote.

The report shed little new light on the ongoing dispute between Netflix and major ISPs involving the subscription streaming pioneer paying for smoother streaming speeds in an effort to bypass network congestion. 

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has for several months spearheaded a well-organized public campaign lamenting the SVOD service’s agreements with Comcast and Verizon. While Netflix apparently sought out the peering agreements, it also considers them avoidable — with government regulation.

The ISPs counter that Netflix’s streams — which remain the dominant Internet traffic during primetime hours — can be congested by a variety of factors.

"Netflix's false accusations have the potential to harm the Verizon brand in the marketplace,” Randal Milch, Verizon general counsel, wrote Netflix earlier this month.

Wheeler June 13 agreed to find out further details surrounding the controversial “direct peering” deals.

“For some time now we have been talking about protecting Internet consumers. At the heart of this is whether ISPs that provide connectivity in the final mile to the home can advantage or disadvantage content providers, and therefore advantage or disadvantage consumers,” the chairman wrote.

Interestingly, Wheeler has advocated for priority streaming deals between ISPs and content providers for the last mile into subscriber homes provided they are commercially viable. Wheeler said he was motivated to act after receiving myriad emails, including one from “George,” who lamented that the ultimate loser in the battle between ISPs and third-party services was the public.

“To be clear, what we are doing right now is collecting information, not regulating,” Wheeler wrote. “We are looking under the hood. Consumers want transparency. They want answers. And so do I.”

Meanwhile, Netflix agreed to stop emailing subscribers blaming their fluctuating streaming speeds on ISPs. The move came after Verizon threatened legal action.

In a blog post, Netflix spokesperson Joris Evers said the email messages were part of an ongoing “transparency campaign” intended to solve network congestion. He said Netflix does not purposely select crowded broadband routes. The average Netflix stream is 2 Mbps, with some streams reaching 5.8 Mbps. Regardless, Evers said the campaign would end June 16.

“As part of this transparency campaign, we started a small-scale test in early May that lets consumers know, while they’re watching Netflix, that their experience is degraded due to a lack of capacity into their broadband provider’s network. We are testing this across the U.S. wherever there is significant and persistent network congestion. We will evaluate rolling it out more broadly,” Evers wrote.

Finally, Netflix shareholders, in a 53% to 47% vote, rejected a provision that would have split the chairman and CEO positions — both held by Hastings. The co-founder was re-elected to the board with 74% of the votes.


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