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Do broadband customers get what they pay for? FCC wants a new speed limit

Net neutrality wars activists at FCC headquarters
Net neutrality wars activists at FCC headquarters
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Broadband speed definition is the newest battlefield in the net neutrality wars. The FCC is planning to decide whether there should be higher upload and download speeds before a service can qualify as "broadband" Internet. According to a June 2 The Wire article, Internet consumers are permanent bandwidth hogs. They watch streaming video on high definition (HD) equipment. They want good resolution, no buffering and no stopping. A content-packed webpage should load within a reasonable time. Multiple devices that tap into a single service will slow down data transfer speeds.

Most consumers have no problem with 5 to 10 Mbps, but some video content is plagued with buffering and stopping. Web pages come with an overload of video and photo content that slows everything to a crawl. Without net neutrality, some services will be slowed down simply because service providers can get away with it. Finally, a physical location might have a host of problems with speed and quality.

As a result, there are three problems with broadband speed and the costs of getting it. These problems trump setting a definition. First, consumers might pay for 25 Mbps or 50 Mbps, but they often get much lower speeds.

A simple speed test at a site like Ookla Speedtest will tell the truth. A May 20 PC Support article has a full list of service provider's speed test pages. The tests are very easy to do and the results are surprising.

Second 1 to 4 Mbps is too slow for today's bandwidth hungry web content. Many have dropped cable TV for ROKU, WII TV and other streaming alternatives. The new web based services, like video chat, photos nd content packed web pages eat more data than ever before.

Third, the FCC might set the definition of "broadband" or high speed Internet service at a much higher speed, but consumers have other problems that must be resolved.

The main issue is that the carriers continue to resolve problems by selling higher speed, more confusing options and bundles of all types.

Defining a particular speed and qualifying it as "broadband" is a very important issue, but determining the best speed each customer can get is also important. This would lead to more fairness in pricing and it is a much needed FCC mandate.

Service providers can test the speed at any street address and determine the highest speeds each customer will get, yet they push customers with physical problems into higher, more expensive speeds than they will ever get.

Consumers need to know how and why each activity slows their bandwidth speed. They need more stable pricing, bundling and billing environments. Consumers need easier ways to evaluate their usages and compare providers. They should be able to choose the service that fits their budgets. Right now, it is all too confusing, costly and confounding.

New technology, equipment, service plans, hardware, software and features will always show up, so bandwidth hungry consumers should be able to determine what is going on. They should be able to identify and choose the speed they actually need. Customers should not have to read the news to find out which services are being pushed into the slow lanes. They should know their site's physical capability. Most of all, they should get the information they need to evaluate the carrier's bundling and billing practices. The FCC spends too much time at the industry level and not at the consumer level.

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