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I’ve Participated In The National Consumer Broadband Test As Part Of The National Broadband Plan (NBP) – Included Are My TWC Test Results – Should I be Happy??

August 5, 2011

As part of the National Broadband Plan (NBP), in March of 2010 the FCC made available a consumer-initiated online test of broadband speed. The purpose of the Consumer Broadband Test is to give consumers additional information about the quality of their broadband connections across their chosen ISPs’ networks and to increase awareness about the importance of broadband quality in accessing content and services over the Internet.

The Consumer Broadband Test has gathered data about how well the Internet is functioning, both generally and for specific ISPs at specific times. But the results of the software-based Consumer Broadband Test do not always capture the baseline connection quality provided by the consumer’s broadband service: the core connectivity between an ISP and its subscribers, rather than between the rest of the Internet and those subscribers. For instance, results of software-based tests can vary depending on the end user’s computer, the type of connection between the end user’s computer and the ISP’s network (e.g., the use of an in-home WiFi router may affect test results), the number of end user devices connected to a broadband service, and the physical distance of the end user from the testing server.

Additionally, there is no standard testing methodology for software-based broadband performance tests, and the Consumer Broadband Test therefore uses two alternative testing methodologies, which also affects the results. In order to assess the speed claims made by ISPs, and to see how particular activities – such as browsing the web or watching streaming video – are impacted by different speeds, the FCC decided to complement the more general Consumer Broadband Test with more consistent tests of the speed of broadband delivered to American homes.

Based on the foregoing, the major findings of the study included the following:

  • Actual versus advertised speeds. For most participating broadband providers, actual download speeds are substantially closer to advertised speeds than was found in data from early 2009 and discussed in a subsequent FCC white paper, though performance can vary significantly by technology and specific provider.
  • Sustained download speeds. The average16 actual sustained download speed during the peak period as calculated as a percentage of the ISP’s advertised speed. This calculation was done for different speed tiers offered by each ISP.

o Results by technology:

  • On average, during peak periods DSL-based services delivered download speeds that were 82 percent of advertised speeds, cablebased services delivered 93 percent of advertised speeds, and fiber-to-the-home services delivered 114 percent of advertised speeds.
  • Peak period speeds decreased from 24-hour average speeds18 by .4 percent for fiber-to-the-home services, 5.5 percent for DSL-based services, and 7.3 percent for cable-based services.

o Results by ISP. Peak period download speeds varied from a high of 114 percent of advertised speed to a low of 54 percent of advertised speed.

  • Only three ISPs had speed decreases of 10 percent or greater during the peak period (as compared to 24-hour average speeds).
  • Sustained upload speeds. Peak period performance results for upload speeds were similar to or better than those for download speeds.

o Upload speeds were not significantly affected during peak periods, showing an average decrease of only 0.7 percent from the 24-hour average speed.

  • Results by technology: On average, DSL-based services delivered 95 percent of advertised upload speeds, cable-based services delivered 108 percent, and fiber-to-the-home services delivered 112 percent.
  • Results by ISP: Upload speeds among ISPs ranged from a low of 85 percent of advertised speed to a high of 125 percent of advertised speed.
  • Latency. Latency is the time it takes for a packet of data to travel from one designated point to another in a network. Since many communication protocols depend upon an acknowledgement that packets  were received successfully, or otherwise involve transmission of data packets back and forth along a path in the network, latency is often measured by round-trip time. Round-trip time is the time it takes a packet to travel from one end point to another, and for an acknowledgement of successful transit to be received back. In our tests, latency is defined as the round-trip time from the consumer’s home to the closest server used for speed measurement within the provider’s network.

o During peak periods, latency increased across all technologies by 6.5 percent, which epresents a modest drop in performance.

  • Results by technology.

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

Fiber-to-the-home services provided 17 milliseconds (ms)round-trip latency on average, while cable-based services averaged 28 ms, and DSL-based services averaged 44 ms.

  • Results by ISP. The highest average round-trip latency among ISPs was 75 ms, while the lowest average latency was 14 ms.

Web Browsing, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), and Streaming Video

o Web browsing. In specific tests designed to mimic basic web browsing—accessing a series of web pages, but not streaming video or using videochat sites or applications—performance increased with higher speeds, but only up to about 10 Mbps. Latency and other factors limited performance at the highest speed tiers. For these high speed tiers, consumers are unlikely to experience much if any improvement in basic web browsing from increased speed–i.e., moving from a 10 Mbps broadband offering to a 25 Mbps offering.

o VoIP. VoIP services, which can be used with a data rate as low as 100 kilobits per second (kbps) but require relatively low latency, were adequately supported by all of the service tiers discussed in this Report. However, VoIP quality may suffer during times when household bandwidth is shared by other services. The VoIP measurements utilized for this Report were not designed to detect such effects.

o Streaming Video. Test results suggest that video streaming should work well across all technologies tested, provided that the consumer has selected a broadband service tier that matches the quality of streaming video desired. For example, standard video is currently commonly transmitted at speeds below 1 Mbps, while high quality streamed video might require 2 Mbps or more. Consumers should understand the requirements of the streaming video they want to use and ensure that their chosen broadband service tier will meet those requirements, including when multiple members of a household simultaneously want to watch streaming video on separate devices.

Chart 1 shows average download performance over a 24-hour period and during peak periods across all ISPs. Most ISPs delivered actual download speeds within 20% of advertised speeds, with modest performance declines during peak periods. As shown in Chart 2, upload performance is much less affected than download performance during peak periods. Almost all ISPs reach 90 percent or above of their advertised rate, even during peak periods.

In general, it was found that even during peak periods, the majority of ISPs were providing actual speeds that were generally 80 percent or better than advertised rates, though there was considerable variation among the ISPs tested, as shown in Chart 3. As noted previously, performance was also found to vary by technology. Results from a particular company may include different technology platforms (e.g., results for Cox include both their DOCSIS 2.0 and DOCSIS 3.0 cable technologies; results for AT&T include both DSL and U-Verse).

PERFORMANCE VARIATION BY ACCESS TECHNOLOGY

As shown in Chart 4, there is some variance in performance by technology during peak periods. DSL on average meets 82 percent of advertised download speed during peak periods, cable meets 93 percent and fiber-to-the-home meets 114 percent of advertised speeds. Upload performance is, as noted, generally better than download performance during peak periods with all technologies meeting advertised upload speeds by 95 percent or better.

Download Peak Period Throughput

As shown in Chart 5, peak period performance varies by service tier among ISPs included in this study. Even during peak periods, the vast majority of service tiers offer performance levels approximately 80 percent or more of advertised speeds. Fiber-to-the-home services typically outperform other service tiers, offering performance levels approximately 115 percent of advertised rates during peak periods. Other ISPs are either close to or exceed advertised rates.

Upload Peak Period Throughput

With the exception of some fiber-to-the-home service offerings, consumer broadband services are typically offered with asymmetric download and upload rates, with the download rate typically many times faster than the upload rate. In general, the ratio of actual to advertised speed for upload performance is slightly superior to the ratio measured for download performance. Fiber-to-the-home services outperform cable and DSL in upload throughput, with many of the current services available on the market operating at symmetric speeds or speeds that are much closer to symmetric than those offered by their DSL and cable counterparts. On average, all technologies and speed bands deliver at least 84 percent of the advertised upload rate. Many cable service tiers exceed 100 percent of the advertised upstream rate. As with the downstream throughput results, fiber-to-the-home services continually deliver over 100 percent of the advertised upload speeds.

Jack Browns TWC One Shot Test Results

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