We’ve all been sold on the 100Mbs download speed that’s been promised to us by an Internet Service Provider (ISP), but what do we actually receive, and why are we okay with it? Well, for starters, the advertised 100Mbs is technically a “maximum speed” and not an average speed, meaning that this number only applies to when everything is running smoothly and the bandwidth capacity isn’t maxed out. But in reality, most people report receiving about 30-60% of their expected speeds – which as you might guess can lead to a lot of frustration.
Some providers promise a minimum speed of 40Mbs, and others have gone as high as 100Mbs for downloads and 120Mbs for uploads. The problem is that the ISP actually determines what those numbers are, so it’s not like a consumer has any control over it. How a consumer receives their speed depends on a number of factors:
To make things even harder to understand, “downstream” bandwidth (the amount of data that can be transmitted from your own computer to the Internet) and “upstream” bandwidth (the amount of data being sent from the Internet to your computer) are different things. In some cases, these numbers are falsely advertised as well: downstream is how quickly the data travels over the Internet to reach you; upstream is how fast your ISP is sending it back.
One of the thousands of complaints filed with the FCC’s Consumer Complaints Department – which receives many complaints from consumers who aren’t satisfied – is about Comcast. The 15 million users who were affected when Comcast decided to upgrade its infrastructure and download speeds went over 100Mb downstream but only received between 3-6Mb upstream. As a result, users say they are experiencing “degraded services” including not being able to stream video or even video chat through services such as Skype.
Ultimately, to get the best broadband speeds is in your hands but it’s crucial that you do your research beforehand. Failure to do so results in you being locked into a contract with a lackluster performance from your ISP. Broadband providers, much like every other company, have reviews. Reading broadband provider reviews is hands down one of the best ways to determine if an ISP is true to their word and provides the speeds they promise. The FCC also has a page dedicated to broadband providers and their reviews, although it’s not exactly known for being an unbiased source.
If you’re looking for a change in ISP, keep in mind that the best way to determine how you’ll receive the speeds is to check the reviews of that particular company. What you’re looking for are consumers who experienced different speeds than they were promised, and also ones who compare them to other ISPs – particularly those who transfer large files and use streaming services like Netflix.
Generally speaking, if you’re looking for the fastest Internet speeds possible, you need to be paying more than what the average person pays for their broadband. Specifically, if you want 100Mbs of download speed and anything less than 15Mbs of upload speed, then your bill is going to have to climb. And if you’re transferring large files or streaming videos from services such as Netflix or Hulu, it’s safe to say that you’ll need at least 40-50Mbs of download speed.
In conclusion, it’s important to understand that whatever speed you choose is going to be different from the advertised speed. In some cases, it may be only marginally different, but in other cases, things can vary dramatically. The main takeaway is that consumers should do their research before signing up for an ISP and should consider an independent review source.
Although not directly related, there is an example of a case study that was conducted on the “Expectations Vs. Reality” concept with regards to student technology use in the form of a survey.