Getting what We Pay For

Measuring broadband speed is a tricky business. Speed testing sites like speedtest.net do a reasonable job of measuring bandwidth to a large network of test servers, but it’s difficult to use Speedtest scores to determine whether people are getting what they pay for because technical systems have no way of knowing which access tier a given subscriber has purchased. So many past efforts have tried to estimate the tier has something higher than what they measure, but that doesn’t work on systems that offer a turbo mode, a temporary burst rate that exceeds the advertised rate. Ookla, the company behind speed test, is trying to close the service level gap:

Earlier this month, Ookla, the company responsible for Speedtest.net (one of the two online speed tests available on the FCC’s website Broadband.gov), started publishing a “Household Promise Index” that is designed to measure the gap between actual and advertised “up to” broadband speeds. The results? On average, Ookla reports that U.S. consumers are receiving roughly 93% of the advertised speeds on the tiers to which they subscribe. And in many regions, that figure exceeds 100% – i.e., customers are getting faster speeds than the “up to” speeds they’ve signed up for. The Ookla data may help explain why a recent FCC survey found that over 90% of consumers are happy with the broadband speeds they’re receiving.

The trend to mis-estimate the service tier and then denounce the carrier for falling short when he’s actually exceeding his promise started with the SamKnows tests in the UK. It would be good not to allow this meme to spread.