FCC Chair: Economy Needs Broadband Speed Hikes

Washington, DC (written by Mike Snider/USA Today) --The quality and availability of broadband service was among the topics taken up by the Federal Communications Commission at its monthly meeting Thursday.

Its second annual Measuring Broadband America report, released today, found that Internet service providers (ISPs), on average, delivered 96% of their advertised download speeds during peak hours, defined as 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. local time. That's up from 87% for download speeds in the first report last year. ISPs delivered 107% of advertised upload speeds, up from 103% last year.

"The bottom line of this report is that millions of Americans have better broadband performance this year than they did last year," said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski during the meeting. "That is good news for consumers and good news for our economy. Faster broadband has brought untold benefits to millions of Americans from distance learning to distance health care to telecommuting...to being able to hear loved ones thousands of miles away."

Last year's first report, he said, was initiated because "during our work on the National Broadband Plan, we saw information that raised real concerns that there was a gap between what ISPs were advertising and what consumers were receiving. ... We brought some attention to that gap."

The agency also post a broadband speed test on its website for consumers to use.

Among the 13 ISPs that voluntarily participated in the FCC's report: AT&T, Cablevision, Charter, Comcast, Cox, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.

Cablevision saw the biggest improvements increasing to 120% its achievement of advertised download speeds during prime-time hours (7 p.m. to 11 p.m. local time) from only a 54% rate in 2011. Mediacom increased its achieved advertised speeds to 100% vs. 75% in 2011. Comcast, already hitting 101% achievement of advertised speeds in prime time in 2011 increased to 103% in the new report.

Verizon's fiber service improved to 120% of advertised speeds from 114%; its DSL service improved to 87% from 86%.

"This survey shows the Xfinity network consistently delivers a superior broadband Internet service to our customers, said Cathy Avgiris, Comcast's executive vice president and general manager, data and communications services, in an e-mail statement after the meeting. "As the largest ISP, we are proud to deliver more speed, more consistently to more homes than any other provider. We are proud of our performance and look forward to continuing to work with the FCC on this study."

Genachowski stressed that continued improvements and faster broadband speeds are essential. "We can't realize the immense potential benefits of, for example, cloud computing without broadband abundance, the ability to quickly and cheaply move amounts of data through the Internet. What is at stake is our global competitiveness and the power of innovation to create jobs. By some estimates cloud computing has the potential to create over 1 million jobs by 2015 and more thereafter. ... We want to be talking about not megabits but gigabits."

Timed to coincide with the FCC's report is The Cost of Connectivity report from the New America Foundation, which also assists the FCC on its broadband report.

Those who take a closer look at that report will find cities such as Bristol, Va., Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lafayette, La., included as part of the non-partisan public interest group's look at international ISP price and quality. Each of those cities has municipal-created broadband systems that are among the fastest in the U.S., the report says.

Those cities, as well as San Francisco, offer good models for local governments looking to build their own broadband systems or foster local ISP growth, it says.

However, many state governments are stifling such possibilities with legislation supported by existing broadband providers looking to protect their own interests, says Benjamin Lennett of the Foundation's Open Technology Institute. "We have to figure out a way to increase the level of competition or we are all going to pay through the nose, and speeds are not going to keep up."


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