FCC’s broadband report shows speed disparity in DSL, cable, fiber-based services

ISPs are far from consistent in matching their advertised download speeds.

The FCC found in its latest consumer broadband report that that while advertised broadband speeds have shown “significant growth," the results are not common across every technology.

While fiber and cable via FTTH and DOCSIS 3.1 technologies have driven up speeds, DSL speeds have not changed much in recent years.

“The report finds a growing disparity in advertised download speeds between many DSL-based broadband services and most cable- and fiber-based broadband services,” the FCC said in its report. “Average DSL speeds have increased only slightly over the past five years and satellite speeds, over a shorter time interval, have remained constant.”

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Despite the disparity between access technologies, the FCC noted that the median download speed across all of the ISPs that participated in the regulator’s study nearly quadrupled from nearly 10 Mbps in March 2011 to about 39 Mbps in September 2015. Average speeds were also up 22% year-over-year from 32 Mbps in 2015.

Fiber and cable technologies saw median download speeds rise 14% and 47%, respectively, while popular DSL speeds have remained largely unchanged.  

The FCC noted that wireline fiber and cable broadband customers experienced speeds that were 100% or better than advertised. Alternatively, the actual speeds experienced by subscribers of some ISPs satellite technologies were lower on average than the advertised “up-to” speeds for their respective providers.

Specifically, Optimum, Charter, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon FiOS experienced consistent median download speeds. Over 90% of the panelists experienced advertised download speeds during at least 80% of the peak usage period.

Thirteen broadband providers participated in the 2016 study, making up 80% of American broadband subscribers. The participating companies included AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, Mediacom, Optimum, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, ViaSat and Windstream.

However, other companies fared less well regardless of technology. Fewer than 50% of panelists for AT&T (DSL), Frontier (fiber) and ViaSat experienced median download speeds that were above 80% of the advertised speed for 80% or more of the time.

Network latency, which is the time it takes for a data packet to travel from one point to another in a network on DSL, cable and FTTH networks, also varies among cable, DSL and fiber technologies.

Cable, satellite and FTTH subscribers said they experienced low packet loss. Moderate packet loss experienced by a few DSL providers may affect the perceived quality of video chat, multiplayer games and video streaming.