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MIT Researchers Challenge FCC Broadband Speed Claims

The National Broadband Plan indicated that actual broadband download speeds were slower than advertised, but MIT researchers say most methods of measurement underestimates speed.

A group of MIT researchers has challenged an FCC claim that actual broadband download speeds are lower than advertised speeds.

When the FCC released its National Broadband Plan in March, the commission said "the actual download speed experienced on broadband connections in American households is approximately 40-50% of the advertised 'up to' speed to which they subscribe."

In questioning that FCC claim, the MIT researchers, led by Steve Bauer, said that most of the common ways of measuring broadband speeds underestimate the speed of the "so-called access network" which is controlled by service providers. Bauer is the technical lead on the MIT Internet Traffic Analysis Study (MITAS).

Bauer and his team found different reasons for different data rates ranging from "idiosyncrasy of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)" to the vagaries of links to consumers' computers.

The FCC was not immediately available for comment on the MIT study, although the MIT researchers said they have sent a copy of their report to the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission. An FCC spokesman told the MIT team that the commission has launched a study of 10,000 homes in an attempt to measure the broadband received in the homes. The FCC has cited a survey finding that four of five Americans don't know the broadband speeds they are getting. The agency said it will measure the actual speeds that consumers receive and compare the speeds to the advertised speeds.

Bauer said the report underscores the importance of obtaining accurate statistics on broadband reception. "If you are doing measurements, and you want to look at data to support whatever your policy position is, these are the things that you need to be careful of," said Bauer in an MIT press report issued Monday. "For me, the point of the paper is to improve the understanding of the data that's informing those processes."

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