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Fastest Internet? It's Complicated
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Fastest Internet? It's Complicated

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Fastest Internet? It's Complicated

Many Internet service providers have laid claim to the title of "fastest" broadband speeds over the years. But who's right?

By most standards, it's hard to argue with Verizon Communications Inc. Its FiOS service offers faster Internet service than other major providers—up to 150 megabits per second, compared with the highest advertised from a cable operator of 105 Mbps offered by Comcast Corp.

Probably more important, Verizon consistently delivers more than it advertises, according to a study conducted by the Federal Communications Commission published in August.

Last spring the FCC compared Internet speeds advertised by 13 broadband providers to the actual speeds experienced by a set of about 6,800 users for both upstream and downstream traffic.

Upstream traffic describes actions like uploading pictures to Facebook, and downstream traffic measures the speed at which content like video is pulled off the Internet.

FiOS's service operated at about 115% its advertised speed over a 24-hour period, the study found, whereas broadband services operated by most cable operators as well as the slower DSL service offered by Verizon and other phone companies fluctuated through the day.

Most of these services saw noticeable dips in their speed between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m., some to well below 100% of their advertised speed.


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Of the cable providers, Comcast, Charter Communications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc. had the most consistent performance.

New York-based Cablevision Systems Corp. had significantly poorer performance in the study than most other operators, averaging about 50% of the advertised download speed during peak the hours of 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. It claims now that it "has demonstrated significant improvements from the FCC's original data of nearly a year ago."

Cablevision sent The Wall Street Journal what it said were test results in December calculated by the same service that ran the FCC's tests, broadband-testing firm SamKnows Inc., which showed Cablevision's Optimum Wi-Fi delivered 107% of its advertised maximum speed of 15 Mbps during peak hours that month. One of Cablevision's recent ads claims that "Optimum Online download speeds are actually faster than basic Verizon FiOS," but it compares Cablevision's improved December data over a 24-hour period with that of Verizon's from the FCC study last spring.

Verizon said in a statement that Cablevision is comparing its broadband speed to FiOS's slowest tier, at 15 Mpbs download speed, and that Verizon's faster products are superior to Cablevision's. "When given a choice of side by side offers, we are confident the FiOS factor will prevail," it said.

SamKnows didn't respond to an emailed request for comment.

Cable operators point to a PC Magazine study also published last August that surveyed 58,000 people through the website Speedtest.net. It ranked Verizon below Comcast, Cox and Charter—but only because the study combined Verizon FiOS results with those of Verizon's slower DSL technology.

Comcast notes it has tested a 1 gigabyte-per-second broadband service that could top Verizon FiOS. It also says it offers a "PowerBoost" performance similar to many other cable providers that allows for users to experience faster download speeds for the first portion of a file up to a certain size.

FiOS' performance likely reflects its design. Verizon laid fiber-optic cables all the way to the residences of its customers.

Cable companies generally wire fiber optic cable to neighborhood nodes, from which coaxial cables run to separate residences and distribute the bandwidth between them.

That means people in neighborhoods effectively share bandwidth, so in evenings, as more people log on, the speed slows.

But the fiber to the home approach is costly to build. Verizon spent more than $20 billion rolling out FiOS, which is available in 14% of the U.S.


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