As Internet service providers gain near-monopolies over uncompetitive markets and charge more and more for the same service, many consumers have grown skeptical of whether they’re really getting what they pay for (or that they aren’t paying too much for what they actually get). In fact, so many people have complained about the speeds that they actually get, versus the speeds that are advertised, that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decided late in 2015 to investigate whether Internet providers are routinely lying about the speeds their networks offer.
As Sarah N. Lynch reported for Reuters in December, Schneiderman invited New Yorkers to test the speed of their Internet and submit the results online. Contributing data will help determine whether big Internet providers are shortchanging users with speeds that are slower than advertised. Schneiderman’s office officially launched an investigation into Verizon, Cablevision, and Time Warner in October. It sent the three companies letters asking for a variety of information, including copies of tests done on Internet speeds and copies of the disclosures that they’ve made to their customers.
The ongoing investigation focuses specifically on interconnection arrangements, which are deals that Internet service providers make with other networks for the mutual exchange of data. In the letters sent in October, Schneiderman’s office said that it was concerned that customers who pay a premium for higher speeds may experience disruptions in their service due to technical problems and business disputes over interconnection agreements.
More recently, Schneiderman said that he wanted feedback from the public to assist with the investigation. His office created a new test on the website internethealthtest.org to capture a customer’s throughput, or the speed at which customers can actually access Internet content. After New Yorkers complete the test, Schneiderman wants them to submit a screenshot of the results through an online form. The data they submit will be used in the investigation to determine exactly what Internet service providers are giving their customers, and how widely that differs from the speeds that they advertise.
If you live in New York and want to submit your results, full instructions are available on the attorney general’s website. Schneiderman wrote in a press release on the initiative, “New Yorkers should get the Internet speeds they pay for. Too many of us may be paying for one thing, and getting another.” He added that “By conducting these tests, consumers can uncover whether they are receiving the Internet speeds they have paid for.”
Rachel Pick reports for Motherboard that since there’s so little competition among Internet service providers, most “can get away with murder.” A recent report by UK agency Ofcom explains that Americans are already charged far more than consumers in other countries for similar services — which makes it even worse that most don’t seem to be getting what they’ve been promised for the price of those services.
In June, the Federal Communications Commission released a report that looked at the status of broadband Internet service in the United States. The document revealed that the service that most ISPs provide is wildly inconsistent. A new measurement, of a service’s “consistent speed 80/80,” showed that customers of providers including AT&T, Cox, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon often don’t get the speeds that they pay for.
The new measurement looks at the proportion of customers whom ISPs are able to provide their advertised speeds to at any given point in time. As Motherboard reported at the time, only 80% of the time are AT&T or Cox able to deliver 80% of their advertised speeds to 80% of their customers. Time Warner delivers only 75% of its advertised speed to 80% of its customers 80% of the time. Verizon and Frontier can only deliver 50% of their advertised speeds to 80% of their customers 80% of the time.
The measurement makes it clear that while average speeds for the average consumer are roughly what you’d expect, there are plenty of times when you aren’t getting that speed. If you look just at the average speeds, it looks like things are going pretty well. But when you consider that your Internet probably slows down considerably or cuts out altogether at least once a week, that goes a long way toward explaining why so many people are unhappy with their Internet service provider.
Customers who are dissatisfied with their Internet speeds are getting more proactive about monitoring the speeds they’re actually getting, and more creative about sharing their findings. As Jon Brodkin recently reported for Ars Technica, a Comcast customer dissatisfied with the company’s service set up a Raspberry Pi to automatically tweet at customers each time speeds are much lower than advertised.
The device runs a series of speed tests each hour, and whenever the download speed drops below 50Mbps — Comcast advertises download speeds of 150Mbps in the area — sends a tweet to Comcast. The tweets show that speeds often drop during hours when the user wasn’t home, or when everyone would be asleep, as opposed to during times of heavy usage. While it seems that the bot has sent a decent number of tweets, the fact that it found lower-than 50Mbps speeds just 16 times in three months indicates that actual speeds are 50Mbps or above more than 99 percent of the time. However, it’s a creative method of demonstrating that when it comes to Internet speeds, there’s no way that you’ll always get what you pay for.