FCC Reveals DSL Speeds Lagging Cable/Fiber: Speeds are Inconsistent & often <Advertised! AT&T U-Verse Speed Report

A new FCC report shows that while many U.S. Internet service providers (ISPs) increased performance between 2012 and 2013, not all of them delivered the speeds that they advertised.  The FCC report found the average speed for subscribers is now 21.2 megabits per second- up roughly 36% from the average in 2012. Aside from Centurylink, the other DSL providers showed little or no improvement in broadband speeds. 

Note: The author has had AT&T U-Verse for 2 years during which time the speeds have not improved.  June 20, 2014 (today) test results:  12.69M b/sec downstream and 1.93M b/sec upstream. No change within last 2 years, but above the advertised speed range for the access tier I subscribe to: 

AT&T U-verse High Speed Internet Max:   6.1 Mb/sec – 12.0 Mb/sec


For 10 years prior to U-Verse, I had Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T DSL which topped out at 3Mb/sec downstream and was NOT nearly as reliable as U-Verse Internet access.  All over the same old twisted pair copper going into my home.

Upload speeds varied greatly among broadband providers, since according to the report most consumers tend to download far more data than they upload. Frontier and Verizon, which market fiber-based services, offered upload speeds as fast as 25 Mbps and 35 Mbps, respectively; no other provider offers upload speeds of more than 10 Mbps. (AT&T doesn’t advertise download speed ranges for U-Verse on their website).

The FCC plans to write to the CEOs of the DSL providers and other companies that failed to consistently meet their advertised speeds, to find out why. An agency official singled out Windstream for having among the worst performance.

Consistency of speeds is also a problem, as some ISPs delivered approximately 60 percent of the speeds they promised 80 percent of the time to 80 percent of customers, according to the report. This is the first time the commission measured speed consistency in its annual report on the topic, and the results concerned FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.   “Consumers deserve to get what they pay for,” Wheeler said in a statement announcing the report Wednesday. “I’ve directed FCC staff to write to the underperforming companies to ask why this happened and what they will do to solve this.”  

Please refer to this chart showing consistent download speed vs advertised speed 80% of time/80% of subscribers.  All major U.S. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are included:


The FCC report states that “Cablevision delivered 100% or better of advertised speed to 80% of our panelists 80% of the time during peak periods, and about half the ISPs delivered less than about 90% or better of the advertised speed for 80/80. However about one-third of the ISPs delivered only 60 percent or better of advertised speeds 80 percent of the time to 80 percent of the consumers.”  This is a metric that the FCC expects ISPs to improve upon over the course of the next year. Do you think that will occur?

Those ISPs using DSL technology show little or no improvement in maximum speeds, with the sole exception of Qwest/Centurylink, which this past year doubled its highest download speed within specific market areas. The reason for this may be that DSL, unlike cable and fiber technologies, is strongly dependent upon the length of the copper wire (or “loop”) from the residence to the service provider’s terminating electronic equipment, such that obtaining higher data speeds would require companies to make significant capital investments across a market area to shorten the copper loops. On the other hand, both fiber and cable technologies intrinsically support higher bandwidths, and can support even higher speeds with more incremental investments.

The FCC’s primary conclusions from this study:

1. Many ISPs now closely meet or exceed the speeds they advertise, but there continues to be room for improvement.
2. New metric this year – Consistency of speeds – also shows significant room for improvement.
3. Consumers are continuing to migrate to faster speed tiers.
4. Improvements in Speed are not Uniform Across Speed Tiers Tested
5. There were sharp differences in Upload Speeds

The FCC report says that increasing consumer demand for broadband access is causing congestion on networks due to video streaming services like Netflix. As that demand increases, companies using digital subscriber line (DSL) service (based on copper wires) cannot compete with the growing speeds of cable and fiber Internet.  An official said the FCC plans to act on that issue later this year after obtaining more information. 

Providers using fiber-based broadband connected directly to consumers’ households delivered 113 percent of advertised download speeds and 114 percent of advertised upload speeds, making it the best traffic option available. But telecom companies have not invested in expanding fiber-optic networks, which is the only way to compete with Internet speeds offered by cable companies, says Harold Feld, senior vice president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.  “We are ultimately heading to a cable monopoly because on the technology side the other technologies cannot keep up,” Feld says, citing arguments made by Susan Crawford, a former tech policy adviser for the Obama administration who is now a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. “We see people want faster speeds, and that DSL as a technology cannot keep up unless companies make very significant investments.” 

This study may help the case for AT&T to purchase DirecTV, as the telecom giant has argued it needs money to upgrade its DSL network. Comcast networks performed well in the study, which may potentially weaken its argument that its customers need more Internet services through the purchase of Time Warner Cable. 



FCC Report


FCC Charts – Measuring Broadband America







Comment from Ken Pyle (viodi.com):

I find it interesting that at least two cable companies announced major increases in their speeds this week. 

as well as this community fiber group (although there speeds are relatively slow).
And Comcast claims to have increased its speeds 13 times in the past 12 years.

Comment from IEEE DIscussion Group Member George Ginis (3 points):

a) The FCC report criticizes the DSL providers not for slow absolute speeds, but for speeds lower than the advertised speeds. This is not criticism directed at the technology, but at business practices. Given that the bottleneck is typically in the access segment, and given that the big majority of DSLs in North America are provisioned in a very conservative way, these providers have the room to push DSL rates higher and address the FCC criticism. In fact, this is what Centurylink did over the past year as noted in the report.
b) I just returned from the TNO DSL conference in the Hague, Netherlands, where I heard about the plans of communications service providers in Europe. Some interesting news: Belgacom and KPN are now offering vectored VDSL at downstream speeds of 70-100Mbps. DT will do the same by the end of the year. Swisscom is about to launch a 100 Mbps service with vectored VDSL, and is planning to roll-out speeds of up to 500 Mbps within 2 years (using the newest vectored DSL standard called g.fast). Competition is very strong among providers, and telcos are fighting hard both on pricing and on speeds to fend off cable providers.
c) I have an AT&T U-verse data-only service delivering a consistent downstream speed of over 20 Mbps, and paying around $60 per month including taxes. It is possible to have U-verse without the TV service, and without the phone service.