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FCC Report Finds Most Broadband Providers Moving to Higher Speed Tiers

Randy Sukow Dec 2, 2016

The increased availability of fiber and high-speed cable modem services is stoking consumer demand for faster service tiers, according to the FCC’s latest “Measuring Broadband America” (MBA) report. Broadband providers are responding by steadily expanding their tiers to include faster options.

“Between September 2014 and September 2015, we observe an average 45 percent annual increase in the maximum advertised download speeds among the most popular service tiers across participating ISPs weighted by the number of participant panelists that joined the MBA study for each ISP tier,” the report says.

The most pronounced increases in downstream advertised rates have been among the cable providers. For example, Time Warner Cable’s top advertised speed jumped from 10 Mbps in 2011 to 300 Mbps in 2015. (See chart below.) Comcast’s top rate rose to 150 Mbps and the average among all fixed Internet providers exceeded 100 Mbps.

Chart 1: Maximum advertised download speed among the most popular service tiers

Fiber providers appear to have the edge in advertised upstream speeds. “Among cable-based broadband providers, the maximum advertised upload speeds among the most popular service tiers increased from 1-5 Mbps in March 2011 to 10-35 Mbps in September 2015,” the report finds. Verizon led in that category with a top upstream speed above 70 Mbps for its fiber service.

By “cable-based providers,” the report includes fiber, DSL and cable modems services. The report also tracks the performance of satellite providers of fixed Internet service. Those services have not fared as well compared to fiber and cable modem, with the top advertised speeds remaining nearly flat since 2011. DSL speed growth also has been mostly flat.

This week’s release is the sixth in a series of Commission MBA reports dating back to 2011. The reports track whether broadband providers’ actual speed performance matches their advertised claims. Each report has steadily found that providers have improved in that effort. The latest report, based on data collected in September 2015, finds that “for most of the major broadband providers that were tested, actual download speeds are 100 percent of advertised speeds or better.”

Again, the trend has not been as favorable for satellite providers. “Hughes’ actual vs. advertised speeds ratio went down [in 2015] from 203 percent to 152 percent while ViaSat’s went down from 107 percent to 71 percent,” according to the FCC’s measurements. “This is likely the result of increased subscribership and consumer usage of these services. Future proposed launches of more advanced satellites would likely reverse this trend.”

ViaSat plans to increase its capacity to more competitive speed tiers with the launch of its ViaSat-2 satellite in 2017 followed by a series of ViaSat-3 satellites in 2019 and 2020. ViaSat announced on Nov. 8 that ViaSat-2 could be ready to deliver to its launch site before the end of 2016.

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