Thinking Tech

What the FCC's new metrics tell us about U.S. broadband

Posting in Design

Three key findings from the FCC's latest report on broadband in America.

The Federal Communications Commission has released its second report measuring the performance of consumer wireline broadband in the U.S. Overall, the results are positive, showing that Internet service providers (ISPs) are backing up claims of better broadband delivery, and that on the whole consumers are getting progressively higher Internet speeds at home. There's a lot of data in the report to parse, however, and a lot of context that isn't readily apparent. Here are three key findings from the FCC's study along with further detail on what the results means.

ISPs are increasing last-mile speeds

In 2011, the average ISP delivered 87 percent of advertised download speed during peak usage periods; in 2012, that jumped to 96 percent.

This is good news, and what it likely means is that ISPs have reduced oversubscription on their networks in order to get better performance. When operators design their networks, they assume that not every subscriber will need to access the full-speed service all of the time. In fact, for years operators used a one percent concurrency model, assuming that only one percent of customers would require full broadband capacity at any given moment. Given that consumers use broadband connections more persistently today (primarily for streaming video), and that performance levels have nonetheless gone up, I'm guessing that network models have changed, and that operators are now aiming at higher concurrency rates. We may have the FCC and its public reports to thank, at least in part, for that effort.

We're still waiting for upstream demand

Upload speeds showed little evidence of congestion with little variance between 24 hour averages and peak period averages.

Although upload speeds increased in 2012, they are still having little impact on the overall quality of Internet service. According to the FCC, demand for upstream capacity changes very little during the course of a day, and there is almost no time when upstream traffic takes a toll on performance. That means that consumers still aren't using bandwidth-heavy upstream applications a great deal. Despite hype around video conferencing and cloud-based back-up services, demand isn't high enough that we're seeing any impact on service quality.

Fiber has the best latency numbers

Latency was lowest in fiber-to-the-home services, and this finding was true across all fiber-to-the-home speed tiers.

If you're big on multi-player gaming, or have a lot of people in your household using the same Internet connection, latency can play a big role in network performance. Latency levels have remained largely stable since 2011, but fiber-to-the-home services still offer the best rates. Compared to cable services with an average round-trip latency of 26 milliseconds, and DSL services with an average latency of 43 milliseconds, fiber services provide an average latency time of 18 milliseconds. That can make a big difference depending on the applications you use, and the demand on your particular Internet access point.

Image credit: FCC

Share this

Mari Silbey

Contributing Editor

Mari Silbey is an independent tech writer based in Washington, D.C. With a background in cable and telecom, she's a contributor to several trade publications, and part of the GigaOM analyst network. She also writes for the long-running digital media blog Zatz Not Funny, and has written for both corporate and association clients focused on broadband networks, mobile apps, and video delivery. She's a graduate of Duke University. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure