DSL is the new dial-up

20 June 2014 by Steve Blum
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On the whole, Internet service providers in the U.S. performed about as well in 2013 as they did in 2012 – largely hitting the same speed and consistency benchmarks. That’s one of the conclusions of the latest FCC report on the performance of consumer-grade fixed broadband services. Diving into the detail, though, shows that DSL-based service is falling further behind the performance levels achieved by cable and fiber technologies.

The FCC puts boxes inside the homes of volunteers across the U.S., who subscribe to a variety of service tiers from major ISPs, and runs standardised tests that mimic typical uses – web browsing and VoIP, for example – and measure peak and sustained speeds, data consumption and other performance related metrics. It then runs a series of calculations that show, among other things, how well ISPs are doing in actually delivering on advertising promises. The published results are national – you won’t be able to find out how your provider does locally.

Comparing sustained upload and download performance against advertised speed shows that Comcast, Cox, Mediacom, Verizon Fiber and ViaSat deliver sustained performance during peak periods that meets or exceeds the levels they sell to subscribers. On the other hand, Verizon DSL, CenturyLink, Frontier DSL and Windstream couldn’t even hit the 90% level. The rest fell somewhere in between.

Other tests showed similar results: cable and fiber are faster and more consistent than DSL. So, as far as the testing went, is satellite, but the one provider measured – ViaSat – was left out of some of the published results, in particular regarding the actual data consumed by its customers. More on that later.

It’s an interesting report and worth reading. The FCC makes all the processed and raw data available. I’m looking forward to going through that as soon as I can pull the gigabyte-class files down through my AT&T VDSL connection.