New York AG's Broadband Speed Test Results Won't Tell Complete Story

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-12-19 Print this article Print
Web Speed Tests

When I tried it, the test ran properly on the Chrome and Firefox browsers, but not at all on Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer or on Apple's Safari for Windows. All tests were performed using a computer running Windows 10.

The series of tests I ran also revealed a fundamental flaw in the Attorney General's understanding of how the Internet works. While broadband customers located in a major metropolitan area, such as Manhattan will likely have access to the test server using their provider's network most of the way, that's only likely if you are on the island of Manhattan.

If you're elsewhere in New York (or like me, not in New York), then you'll almost certainly have to depend on a third-party broadband provider for most of the trip between wherever you happen to be and where the server in New York City is located.

What's more, while is able to make the details of the backbone provider transparent, this isn't an option for Internet users under other circumstances. In addition, there's really no way that an end-user can choose what backbone provider their traffic travels over. This means that even though one backbone may give great bandwidth, your traffic may not always use that one even if it's available.

And that's the problem with the AG's test assumptions. The way TCP/IP traffic works is that when a packet gets to a router it chooses a path for a given packet according to what the router sees as an available connection at that specific moment. What this means is that the router may send your traffic over, say, Network X because the far-end router is advertising it as being open, even though Network Y is faster.

What's more, in the real world, one stream of data may not follow the same path in its entirety. While it's convenient to think of TCP/IP traffic as operating as if it's switched, it isn't. Your view of a Web page may have traveled over two or three different backbones only to be assembled when it gets to you. This, by the way, is a major cause of poor Internet experiences, but one that's not really being addressed by the AG.

Of course, as M-Lab notes in their background information, interconnect arrangements between ISPs and backbone providers can also have an effect, as can the level of equipment that's in place for any particular provider. Poor router choice and poor configuration can degrade throughput and that part is under the control of the provider.

The investigation by the New York AG may turn up some problems with promised throughput, and some of those problems may be due to the nature of the agreements between the three ISPs being investigated and their backbone providers.

I just hope the lawyers who are running this probe understand those basic realities of networking, or it could end up hurting Internet access in New York instead of helping.



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