back to article US gov proves ISPs lie about bandwidth

If you're an average US broadband user, you've had internet access for 10 years, spend about an hour a day online at home, and are enjoying far less of the bandwidth your service provider promises you. These unsurprising stats come from a new report from the Federal Communications Commission entitled (equally unsurprisingly in …


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  1. KjetilS

    How can this be so difficult?

    Up here in Norway I use a relatively small ISP which I pay to give me a 8/0.5mbps ADSL connection. What they actually give me is 17/1mbps. They take pride in providing *nothing less* than what you pay for.

    They're also working on running fiber optics to subscriber houses, with 10/10, 50/50 and 100/100mbps options available.

    If a small semi-rural ISP can manage this in Norway, why can't major ISPs in UK and US do the same, seeing as they have access to a much larger customer base?

    1. Mike Hanna


      Cos they're useless money grabbing cunts

      How much do you pay for your 8Mbps?

      1. KjetilS

        A title

        Approx £40/mon. It may be a lot more than UK citicens are used to, but it isn't bad compared to others in Norway (and everything is expensive up here :))

    2. CD001

      In a way...

      You've sort of got a small advantage in a "semi-rural" setting - you might not have to dig up huge sections of road causing weeks of disruption in busy urban areas.

      The problem with upgrading the lines in the UK is, in part, down to the amount of investment required once you factor in the complexity of doing so in a heavily urbanised environment... however it's only in these environments that there is likely to be long term profit.

      Thankfully I'm on cable and normally get around 17-18Mbs on my 20Mbs subscription - so that's not bad.

      Mind - I DO like the idea of advertising (or being forced to advertise as) *nothing less than* XMbs :D

    3. kwhitefoot
      Thumb Up

      Hvilken ISP er det?

      I'd better continue in English: which ISP is that? And do they serve Svelvik? I currently use Telenor and have a nominal 16Mbps download rate but never get better than 12Mbps according to Telenor's own speed test page.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    bandwidth consumption

    With modern web applications the difference between the high bandwidth user and a low one is likely just that high user is watching video on the web in some for or gaming (and downloading huge update files etc) and low user is not.

    High users are not just freetards anymore, they are anyone seduced by the hype ...

  3. PerfectBlue

    Is it actually possible?

    Sorry, but is it actually possible for an ISP to advertize accurate bandwidth?

    I'm not defending shady advertizing (Or outright lying, for that matter), but is it actually possible for a US ISP to advertize accurate bandwidth statistics?

    I live in a small town. When an ISP advertizes here it uses the same ad for the entire town, yet if you live in one part of town you can get a 6-7 meg connection, but if you live in another part of town you can only get 2-3. All of the phone cables are with one company, all of the exchanges are with one company (It's a very small town), but the the bandwidth rates vary wildly even with the same ISP because of all kinds of street level factors, like some of the junction boxes on each block dating back to the 1970s, or some streets having people on them who use poorly configured P2P systems that flood the local circuits with millions of ultra small packets and jam everything up.

    Some steets are wired for cable and are right on top of the local exchange, so there are like 3 or 4 people people on ADSL on those streets who get pretty much full speed as they virtually have a private line straight to the exchange.

    Then there are factors inside people's homes like electrical equipment putting interference on the lines, or badly wired telephone connections.

    ISPs can hardly be blamed for some of this stuff (Only 1 ISP in my town actually owns infrastructure, and they are a cable company). There's a lot that they can be blamed for, but unless they measure the speed on every street and produce custom ads for them then they can't actually advertize acurrate speeds.

    Personally, I'm on cable. I get the advertized speed. Which is significantly faster than even the best ADSL. ADSL is NOT the future of internet access. It's a stop gap that is reliant on a legacy system.

    If we want to be able to compete with countries like Japan and Korea we need to do what Japan and Korea are doing. They are wiring up everywhere possible with cable access.

    I realize that this is n't practical everywhere, especially not in small towns, but it's way forward. If you want reliable and high bandwidth you need to get cable.

  4. thomas k.

    Guess I'm lucky

    I guess I'm among a lucky minority in that I've consistently gotten my promised speed from Verizon ever since I signed on to DSL - what, 9, 10 years ago now? First at 768//125, then they upped it to 1.5/350 at no addtional cost. The speed consistently falls within a -2% - +5% range of that.

    Occasional equipment failures on their end, all resolved reasonably quickly, have been the only exceptions.

    Of course, as only half the "national average" figure the report bandies about, I shouldn't think it too difficult for Verizon to provide consistent results.

    And, to their credit ...

    I tried upgrading to the 3mps package several months ago, when the saleperson assured me it was now available in my area. After the supposed upgrade date, I was not seeing any increase in speed and called to find out what was going on/complain. Verzon apologized and said the 3mps wasn't actually available in my area, so my bill would stay the same and they gave me 6 months free to make up for the mistake.

    1. Alex Wells

      I could provide you that speed...

      Using a length of copper and two cups. I jest, but doesn't your post show how low expectations are in America?

      "To their credit" - they mucked something up, couldn't provide you with a frankly piss-poor speed and you like the fact that they gave it to you free for six months??? a 1.5Mb package cost you maybe 10 dollars a month so your happy cos they let you off 60 dollars?

      I now pledge not to moan about BT.

  5. David 45

    Ditto UK

    Same as the UK. As implied - surprise, surprise! My lousy British Telecom line only allows about a meg, so I have (or HAD, allegedly) a half-meg truly unlimited el-cheapo package which, surprise again, has just been forcibly "aligned" with other packages, since my ISP was taken over with (yet another surprise) a price increase, about which I am less than happy, considering the service has gone downhill of late. Nowadays on boot-up, my modem is reporting a download speed of as little as 192kbits/sec and an upload speed of 448 kbits/s (upload is consistent). Used to get over over it by the work-around of unplugging the line from the modem and allowing it to re-activate the ADSL connection. It now takes several attempts to get the speed up to a dizzy 512 kbits/s. I used to get 576 kbits/s, which roughly equates to the half a meg I should have been getting, but even those halcyon days seem to be gone. Customer service seems to be made as difficult as possible, having to jump through several hoops and is obviously outsourced to another country, agents seemingly having a limited command of English. To add insult to injury, I keep getting both e-mails and snail-mails extolling their new, improved, whizz-bang system, up to 8 megs - you know the form. No chance.

    There is a company based near me that runs a highly successful radio-based ("wireless" to you!) system with both-way speeds of around 10 meg that have already covered several outlying, poorly-served local villages and I am in their catchment area. Guess where I might be going next!

  6. Tigra 07

    Change the system

    Change the whole system to charge for what you use, just like the electric and gas meter.

    The internet meter would be measured in Gb and you just pay for what you used rather than the same as everyone else with the same ISP.

    Might be costly to implement, but it would save most people money and punish the people using more than their fair share.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Half-baked idea

      That sounds like a great idea, but you see with the gas, electricity and water, I control all the taps. I decide how much to use and when.

      Now connect your windows (apple will also do) computer to the internet. I will go and send packets up and down without any concent, with no way of stopping it.

      Several programs that you may rely on will phone home to their masters.

      A simple look at the weather or local news will flood your connection with falshy video adverts that you didn't ask for and don't want (unless you disabled flash :)

      Some script kiddy somewhere will flood your connection with packets in order to find any vulnerabilities that they can use to turn your router/computer into a zombie to send more packets. Even if you are not infected, you still receive all these packets, and you will pay for them!

      You become so much more aware of this with mobile data which often does charge by the bit, and you find yourself handing over a small fortune because some programmer thought that their program should do whatever it wants on the internet regardless of what you want.

      1. Tigra 07

        That's not fair though

        "A simple look at the weather or local news will flood your connection with falshy video adverts that you didn't ask for and don't want (unless you disabled flash :)"

        That's how it works on phones using all your bandwidth, if it's not fair on computers it can't be fair on phones.

        One system is needed for both, whether it's my idea or not.

    2. CD001


      You were doing so well until that "using more than their fair share bit" ... had you said "more than they'd be prepared to pay for" I'd have been with you.

      Unfortunately as some chap above me said - there's a lot more going on over your line than you have control over - you'd end up paying for all the spam emails you receive as well.

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      @ Tigra 07

      I exposed an SFTP server for a friend in the UK a while back. It was a previously closed port, it was opened for about half an hour. My friend connected twice (I think the connection dropped?). His connections were difficult to spot within all of the other connection attempts. From...? IP addresses in places like Latvia and China. I think I'd be absolutely terrified if I opened up my Livebox's firewall and clocked what was actually coming in. Randomly. Because I'm just another IP address. Orange doesn't block this IP range, evidently, it is up to the Livebox to ignore it. Which means it gets to me. Which means it is a part of my data transfer. Thank god it's unmetered.

      1. Tigra 07

        RE: Heyrick

        So what stops hackers doing this with phones as they advance more and take on more roles of computers?

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          @ Tigra 07

          What's to stop them? Nothing, really.

          At the moment, my phones have only ever had LAN IP addresses (usually 10.x.x.x) so I guess the mobile provider firewalls a lot of stuff - certainly hope so given the GPRS prices here!

          Can the iPhone auto-run applications in storage during its boot? One of the benefits of the older style phones (I'm thinking of my Nokia S40 series) is that the system was in FlashROM and applications had to be specifically started by the user. If the later generation of phones run a live filesystem and/or allow for things to be inserted into the init, it would make it that much easier to pwn.

    4. Kilgaard

      Pay per Gb

      Many years ago pay per Mb was the normal in Australia.

      It pretty much died out when people got the bill from Telstra.

      Most people don't do the maths ahead of time and realised that 14c/MB (counting both up and down) can get very expensive very quickly.

      A 700MB Xvid movie ends up costing over AU$100.

  7. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    service provider promises

    I am lost by this statement. Your service provider promises you? Mine says that they may deliver a service, and if they don't it's not their fault. They say I can pay for the bandwidth cap I get, and that I will not get more than that, but no promisses.

    I can change "service provider", but since there is only actually one where I live, it's still the same service and service provider, just with a different name on the bill.

    As it happens, It's not too bad. Over 8Mb/s down and 768kbs up (on my laptop at least, my wife's only just manages 2Mb/s - so depending on who you ask you get bad figures anyway).

  8. Simon Buttress


    Punish the people using more than their fair share? WTF?

    Do we all have a defined 'fair share' and we're not allowed to go over it?

    You make it sound like a crime for someone to use their internet connection, that they will be paying for, as they see fit. (traffic volume, not traffic content)


    1. Tigra 07

      RE: Simon

      So i assume you would be happy to have no heating, electricity or water for the same reason?

      If others used it all at peak times you would be ok with having a blackout?

      After all, like you said, they're paying for it, so they can use as much as they see fit.

      Reasonable only comes into it when theres people thinking of others, rather than using terrabites of bandwidth to themselves or having a shower every 10 minutes and leaving the heating on full

      Epic Fail on your behalf Simon

  9. Anonymous Coward


    I guess I'm placed in the top tier of internet users, regularly using online film rentals, iPlayer, SkyPlayer, internet gaming, hell, I even buy and download software from e-stores (Windows 7). Having used the services my ISP provides (given away on previous line) and making quite good use of them, I find it rather insulting to be told I've exceeded my Fair Use allowance and will be punished :'(

  10. Doug Glass

    Gasoline (petrol) mileage ...

    ... in the US is a FLEET average for a given make/model, NOT a specific vehilce. Bandwidth is the same, ISPs calculate an average and tell you that's what to expect. As the saying goes, "your mileage may vary". If you dislike it don't buy it. Simple

  11. John F. Jackson

    Ridicule? Fine? Emprison? Crucify?


  12. JaitcH

    The 'Advanced' nations lag developing nations

    I think I am right in saying Korea (Seoul specifically) leads the world in landline InterNet.

    The alleged 'world technology leader' is pathetically slow, as well as having poor rural coverage. The US has huge tracts of space that have no InterNet, cell or landline service.

    Though Canada can't claim any speed records, it certainly has better rural coverage - even to the Inuit townships dotted along the northern (Arctic) coast.

    Some developing countries achieve amazing rural coverage and speed. China is stringing the whole country with fibre optics with few microwave backbone links.

    The country I'm most familiar with, VietNam, has an installed backbone fibre capacity measured in several tens of terabytes (the precise data is regarded as a state secret). The fibre network dedicated to ATM's, alone, has a capacity of 2.5 gigabytes.

    The technique they use for delivering InterNet is simple. Instead of using DSLAM's in Central Offices (Exchanges), the InterNet fibre-optic cable is taken to pole-mounted DSLAM racks which means the ADSL signal is applied within a few tens of metres of the subscriber premises. This means that even more remote villages have very acceptable speeds that make British target speeds pathetic. Rural speeds of 12 megabytes are not unusual.

    Even in larger populations, around 500,000 this technique enables consistently high speeds to be achieved. Perversely, however, in the largest cities of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh/SaiGon the ADSL feeds come from Central offices and are often slower than those encountered in rural areas.

    So excuse us when we laugh at BT pronouncements of future 'high speed' InterNet services - they are in our dark ages!

    1. Charles 9

      Britain and the US have their own issues.

      For Britain, a key part of its problem is the age of its cities (and the infrastructure that goes with it). To paraphrase from Terry Pratchett, you could say London is built on London. Try any sort of mucking about and you'll end up mucking about more than you wanted (and probably belonging to more than one owner).

      As for the US, it's rather unfair to knock them for having difficulty setting up a high-speed wireless network vs. countries that about are the sizes of Kentucky (S. Korea) and California (Japan). The US has geography going against it (not just sheer size but also various things like big rivers and a couple nice-sized mountain ranges), and a big factor of wiring costs happens to be running the line. I mean, has anyone tried running a fiber-optic link from New York to Los Angeles...or maybe Miami to Seattle?

      1. Daniel B.

        Dark fiber

        After the dot-com bubble burst, there was a lot of talk about how the comms industry had overshot the bandwidth requirements we had, and that a lot of that extra fiber wasn't being used at all. So when the burst came, the masses said that the net was good for another 20 years, and a bunch of that "extra bandwidth" went dark.

        So, what about now? I would think that it is only a matter of lighting up that fiber, isn't it? Or were those naysayers of 10 years ago just full of shit?

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      @ JaitcH

      When it comes to Internet, I'm not sure I'd call Korea a developing nation. They have a gaming culture like no other, and anything less than 100mbit is just unacceptable (and they're frequently faster yet). Maybe because Korea is a fairly small place with savvy and demanding customers it is essential for the providers to provide, or else they'll die. We don't have the same attitude in the west. Look at me, I'm paying for "up to 20mbit" and getting two. I consider this a good thing for <insert loads of standard excuses> and I can be free to change my provider but it's the same equipment and the same phone line so it'll be the same speed. There isn't really the incentive to make things better, for I could get in a huff and cancel my contracts. I'd lose. It would only wake providers up if hundeds of thousands took that action, but nobody will for El Reg at 2 mbit is better than no El Reg at all.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Huh. So that means after I'm done nicking my

    15 or so HD pr0n downloads every month I'm in the top tier of consumers. And that's without all the high density family picture transfer use my Mac using roomie contributes. Last check the roomie had about 60G of sim cards for the camera.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    So, how is it counted?

    I've got an advertised 5mbit connection, from a small ISP whose upstream is TWC.

    If I do the speakeasy speed test, I get 4.8mbit basically 100% of the time. If I use my news server, I get 604kbytes/sec, rock steady, pretty much all of the time.

    Most other sites, though - say, my company's web host, or a directx dl from microsoft, or drivers from ATI - will get about 350 to 400kb/sec.

    So, is my speed half what's advertised? Obviously my pipe is capable of running full tilt at any time of the day, but only to certain hosts. Do people with 20mb connections get 3.2mbit grabbing directx or ati drivers? Or are those servers just spitting out 320kbit no matter what?

  15. The Original Steve

    Quote of the article...

    "Perhaps unsurprisingly, knowing the delicate negotiations in which the FCC is currenly embroiled, "bullshitting service providers" is not mentioned as one possibile reason for service not matching promise."

    Love it.

  16. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Backhaul problems!

    @thomas k, this really isn't luck. Verizon runs their telecommunications network, well, like a telecom -- they actually try to maintain a level of service, they make large long-term investments instead of trying to stay like 6 months ahead of usage (or worse, like so many fall behind usage and then try to catch up), and they don't sell people service they can't actually provide just to make a buck.

    I must give props to Qwest (my local telecom) for providing service as advertised too -- they have not rolled out fiber-to-the-home, but the fiber-to-the-node system they have, the fiber is reportedly VERY undersubscribed, and everyone I know who has gotten Qwest has gotten speeds as advertised. Where they don't have fiber, they are if anything excessively conservative in terms of saying "no your line is too long for this higher speed" too.

    The big problems in the US are several:

    First, for cable, they carry many many channels, a large number of analog channels and a large number of digital. So, there are only a few channels (like 2 or 3) available for use by all the cable modems in an area, and a cable node tends to cover at least a city block, and often larger areas than that. So there can be congestion even before the cable node. DSL avoids this particular problem, because each user has their own copper pair.

    Secondly, there is the backhaul, this runs from the cable node to the cable company office, or for DSL from the DSLAM (local box all the DSL lines run to) to the central office. I've heard some DSL providers are quite bad in having inadequate bandwidth running to the DSLAM. I think cable has more problems from the home to the cable node than with backhaul, but I've heard of cable nodes having a lack of backhaul too.

    Thirdly, some ISPs are perfectly happy to sell whatever service the customer orders, instead of what the copper can actually support -- if the phone line runs straight to the central office, or is old, or someone's in an apartment complex where the cable or phone lines are grody, instead of offering a stable 1.5mbps, or 3mbps or whatever, the ISP will offer like 8mbps anyway, and the line can't support that speed.

    The first problem is hard to solve, cable cos will either have to reduce or eliminate analog channels, or switch digital channels to MPEG4. Both would require sending a new cable box to every subscriber, which is very expensive, in addition to whatever else has to be changed.

    The third problem is either very expensive (run new copper or fiber to the home) or very cheap (test the line and don't sell service the line is incapable of providing.)

    The second problem is the big one -- both cable and DSL companies are making far more money off internet service than off anything else. But, they are perfectly happy to keep offering faster and faster service to end users, while not reinvesting the profits to make necessary upgrades to their backhaul and backbone networks.

  17. JC 2


    I have a mere 10 Mbps rate plan, yet I could only hope that I get that on the majority of sites I visit. The bottleneck is not usually your ISP, it is the bandwidth/load of the server you access. So, let's forget about this nonsense and focus on the real problem, that web designers are lazy like other tools and use some packaged crap to produce 3MB pages when 24KB of HTML would have done the job!!

    You too, reg, my delivery of news is not enhanced by the bits it takes to make it pretty, imagine a time when 4K worth of text took up only 4K. Is it all that amazing? No, at one point it was common sense.

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