Once again, marketing trumps reality. According to a new report by the Federal Communications Commission, 68 percent of Internet connections in the U.S. that are called "broadband" by their service providers fail to meet the minimum technical requirements that define "broadband." Translation: More than two-thirds of Americans who are paying for what they think is broadband are getting ripped off. It's no different than buying a carton of eggs at the supermarket and then discovering only 10 eggs inside. Except most consumers would get more upset about the eggs because they can count. Few can readily determine if their "broadband" connection is failing to deliver broadband speeds. (Also see: In the spirit of 4G!)
You can read the FCC's 87-page report here (though it might take a little while to download since there's only a one-in-three chance that you actually have broadband). The gist of it, though, is this: The agency's minimum requirements for a connection to be accurately defined as "broadband" is 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream. And guess what? Out of more than 133 million presumably broadband connections in the U.S., more than 90 million fail to meet the minimum standard. Even more outrageous, 58 percent fail to reach download speeds of 3Mbps, which is like getting only eight or nine eggs in your carton. Now, the definition of broadband changes over time -- and rightly so. What was considered blazing fast in 2002 is far different that what should be considered high-speed today. Well, the standards are the standards, and based on the latest benchmarks, most people aren't getting broadband. Here's a caveat from DSLReports: Some of those users may be on slow connections by choice. Some of those users may be on slow connections because the lack of any significant competition means companies aren't pressured to upgrade their networks. The FCC study doesn't specify because the FCC study doesn't take a real look at competition. Sounds like, in addition to lack of competition, the FCC itself is part of the problem. As DSLReports quotes consumer advocacy organization Free Press: "The FCC continues its practice of releasing highly flawed and misleading analysis about the broadband marketplace that grossly overstates the level of broadband competition. The shortcomings in this report are inexcusable and suggest that Chairman Genachowski's commitment to run a 'data-driven' agency is thus far just an empty slogan. Some "broadband" providers might point to the fact that the FCC report tested Internet access speeds in 2009 and then go on to claim that they've made "significant progress" since then, much as AT&T claims whenever Consumer Reports trashes its wireless service. To that I say: Different year, same lies. When you read stuff like this, it's easy to understand why U.S. wireless carriers feel free to shamelessly call their existing networks 4G, when they actually don't meet the defined benchmarks for 4G. It's because they can.
Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.