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The FCC Blasts ISPs For Not Delivering the Broadband Speeds They're Advertising

Not consistently to all its users, at least.

Image: Marcelo Graciolli/Flickr

Most major internet service providers still aren't giving their customers the speeds they're paying for. That's the major finding of the latest State of US Broadband report from the Federal Communications Commission, anyway.

The document offers the most comprehensive look at broadband internet service in the United States. It's the FCC's most important annual report, at least for consumers. A new measure added this year reveals why many people hate their ISPs: By and large, they simply aren't consistent, meaning you might have blistering fast internet one day, and a terrible crawl the next.

It's a scenario many people know well, and previous reports by the FCC have allowed ISPs to skate by on this issue by measuring only the "average" download and upload speeds. The new measure, called "consistent speed 80/80," showed that customers of several major ISPs, including AT&T, Cox, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon DSL, regularly don't get the internet speeds they pay for.

The measure is somewhat complicated, but, basically, it's a look at the proportion of customers that ISPs are able to deliver the speeds they advertise to at any given point in time:

Image: FCC

Less than 80 percent of the time, AT&T is able to deliver 80 percent of its advertised speed to 80 percent of its customers. Same with Cox. Time Warner fares even worse, delivering just 75 percent of its advertised download speed to 80 percent of its customers 80 percent of the time. And Verizon and Frontier DSL both fare horribly: The two ISPs are only able to offer about 50 percent of its advertised speed to a majority of its customers, most of the time.

As I said, the measure is wonky, but basically, it means that, while average speeds for the average user are roughly what you'd expect given the prices you pay, there are going to be plenty of times when you aren't getting that speed. 

In a statement, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the agency is going to launch a probe into the issue. 

“Consumers deserve to get what they pay for. 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," 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.”

That overall lack of consistency—even some of the better-faring ISPs are screwing you at least once every five days—is a pretty good insight into why customer satisfaction levels at most major ISPs are so horrible. And it's a good look into why some people are able to make seemingly rational arguments that the state of broadband in the United States is just fine: Because, if you look at average speeds, the United States fares quite well. But when your internet is cutting out and generally sucking once every work week, that's not good enough.