FCC Says 4 Out of 5 U.S. Users Don't Know How Fast Their Broadband Is

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2010-06-01

The Federal Communications Commission said June 1 the four out of five broadband users in the United States do not know how fast their broadband connection is, a sign of how little Internet users know about the rate at which data is transmitted to their computers.

On behalf of the FCC's Consumer Task Force, Abt/SRBI and Princeton Survey Research Associates International surveyed 3,005 American adults from April 19 to May 2, 2010 and found that 80 percent of broadband users in the U.S. do not know the speed of their broadband connection. 

No demographic group had good awareness of their home broadband speed, though the data indicated there were some differences among the demographics. The FCC said some 71 percent of men do not know what speed they're getting, while the figure is 90 percent for women.

The older users tend to be, the less they know about their broadband connections, the survey found. While 73 percent of consumers surveyed between the ages of 18 and 29 do not know their home broadband speed, the number shot up to 88 percent for people 65 years old and up.

The survey is geared to help fulfill a goal of the National Broadband Plan to gauge the Internet speeds users are getting in their homes and mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers. 

The idea is to ensure broadband providers such Verizon, Comcast and AT&T continue to provide high levels of broadband service for unsuspecting users who may not know how to gauge what their provider promises.

"Better information can help all consumers choose the broadband services that best meet their needs," said Joel Gurin, chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the FCC.

"They need more meaningful information to know exactly what speed they need for the applications they want to run, and what provider and plan is their best choice. The difference between an inexpensive low-speed plan and an expensive, high-speed plan can be hundreds of dollars a year. Consumers need to be able to choose wisely."

To that end, the FCC said today it will measure the actual speeds that consumers receive and compare them to the speeds that broadband providers advertise.  

To help with these goals, the agency asked today for 10,000 volunteers to participate in a  study to measure home broadband speed in the U.S.

The FCC is contracting with SamKnows Limited to install a special set-top box in the homes of volunteers to measure the performance of all the country's major Internet service providers.

The agency invited anyone to register as a volunteer here. This device will measure the constant end-user throughput from the Internet service provider.

It should be noted that the survey found that 91 percent of broadband users say they are "very" or "somewhat" satisfied with the speed they get at home.

This contrasts sharply with a comScore study that found the actual speeds experienced by consumers are as low as half of what providers advertised.

The FCC is trying to be proactive as it seeks to curtail the impingement of network traffic from providers after a court said the FCC could not dictate how providers manage Web traffic on their networks.  

The FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau is also mulling how to measure mobile broadband speed at a time when more consumers are using smartphones, laptops, netbooks and tablet PCs such as Apple's iPad to surf the Web. Some 71 percent of mobile broadband users said they were satisfied with their speeds.

Over time, the FCC aims to fashion tests that consumers may use to track their own broadband speed for home and mobile devices. 

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