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

NEWS ANALYSIS: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's effort to check broadband speeds using a public benchmark test site doesn't account for all factors that can affect throughput.

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Concerned that broadband network customers in New York might not be getting the bandwidth they're paying for, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has decided to investigate.

His investigation apparently began as a result of some customers of broadband providers in the state who thought their Internet access was too slow, but he doesn't say that in his press release asking broadband users to help with the investigation.

What Schneiderman does say is that he's contacted three broadband providers in New York—Verizon, Cablevision and Time Warner—and has asked them for details on the actual broadband speeds delivered to customers.

In addition, the AG has arranged for dedicated access to (which is run by M-Lab), where customers can test Internet access throughput speeds themselves. The AG's office then asks volunteers to fill out a form with the speeds they're paying for, and to attach a screen shot with the results of the test.

However, despite the best intentions of the AG, this study does not provide the full picture of the various factors that affect broadband throughput. In fact, some of the fault (if there is any) that the AG is searching for may be beyond the control of the ISP.

I tried out the New York version of even though my office is located in Northern Virginia. While I was at it, I also ran the test without using the special New York settings, which basically means that the test uses the nearest server and not necessarily a server in New York. What the tests showed me was that my average throughput using Verizon FiOS is somewhat more than what I'm paying for, regardless of whether I'm accessing the server in Washington, D.C., or the one in New York.

But the test also revealed something that's a lot more interesting. In each case, used a variety of third-party backbone providers to reach the destination server. Each time I tried, the choice of backbone providers changed, and in each case, one of the providers, usually Tata, was dramatically slower than the others. That in turn meant that my average throughput was slower than it might have been if the test had used broadband providers that had approximately equal throughput.

The average throughput speeds varied the most when one provider, again usually Tata, was pathetically slow, on the order of 12 megabits per second, even when the others were providing speeds on the order of 75M bps. However, it's worth noting that Tata wasn't always the slowest. If you run the test enough times, you'll find that the backbone provider with really slow speeds can vary over time.

Adding to the complexity of this study, it turns out that the test doesn't work on every browser, so the AG may well find that some of its volunteers can't run the test at all.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...