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Measuring Broadband Speeds

How fast is your connection?

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Measuring Broadband Speeds

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A recent FCC survey found that 80 percent of broadband users in the United States don’t know the speed of their broadband connection. Many people don’t know what speed they are paying for, or what they are getting compared to what the broadband provider is claiming to offer.

Some of the tips offered by the FCC’s Consumer Task Force:

• Know the speed you need - for example, whether you need a fast speed for gaming, or whether a slower speed will do.

• If you’re choosing a broadband provider for the first time, consider speed, price, and service.

• Choose a service tier that offers the best value.

• Ask about the contract and hidden fees such as early termination fees.

• Factors like a slow router or computer, using the Web at peak times, or using high-bandwidth applications can slow down your connection.

• If your web connection seems too slow, and it’s not due to one of the reasons above, call your broadband provider.

• If you’re using wireless broadband, look at all your choices.

Try these websites to measure the speed of your broadband connection:

FCC Speed Test

New York State Broadband Speed Test

Alternative Broadband Speed Test

Advertised vs. Actual Broadband Speeds

Another important distinction is the difference between advertised and actual broadband speeds. There is a wide disparity between what a provider advertises as broadband speed, and the actual speeds you experience when using your broadband Internet connection. According to the FCC, this variance has been closing over the last few years.

"Most major ISPs are providing service close to what they're advertising. This represents a significant improvement over the findings from two years ago when we first shined a light on this issue," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said while releasing the FCC report regarding advertised broadband speeds.

Reading the Results

The FCC broadband speed test actually measures four different factors which affect the speed and quality of your broadband connection - download speed, upload speed, latency, and jitter. Download speed measures how fast you receive data packets over your broadband connection, while upload speed tests how fast you send data packets back. Latency is the round trip of the data packets, measuring the time it takes for the test data to get to your computer and then sent back to the testing server.

The jitter test is used to test the consistency of the latency. If the jitter result is too high, you may have problems with data intensive applications like a voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) program, gaming applications, or streaming video such as Netflix. Networking experts claim less than 20 milliseconds of jitter is best for high quality video conferencing, while latency under 30 milliseconds is even better.

In addition to measuring the speed of your broadband connection, the FCC speed test website is also collecting and aggregating the data associated with the test. According to the FCC, the information may be used to "analyze broadband quality and availability on geographic basis."

Another broadband speed test website that measures and aggregates broadband speed data is speedmatters.org. This website is owned by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), who publish an annual report listing and ranking each state as it relates to download and upload speeds. The data is presented neatly and organized by State. Since CWA is a proponent of universal broadband access, as well as high broadband speeds, there is a wealth of information about broadband contained on the site.

This is their description of the benefits of broadband.

This CWA Speedmatters.org report documents specific examples of communities using high speed broadband to tackle regional problems and maximize available resources.

Broadband Speed and Bandwidth

Broadband Speed will continue being an important factor – in differentiating competing broadband provider offerings, and for keeping up with increasing bandwidth appetites of emerging applications. Bandwidth is a precious and limited commodity, of which the FCC and Congress are grappling with. The Obama administration outlined a strategy to make 500 MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband. The FCC responded with an initial proposal to free 115 MHz.

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