On Tuesday, the FCC announced the results of a survey, showing that “four out of five home broadband users say they do not know the speed of their home internet connection.”
This received a lot of coverage (see this Ars Technica post), but lost in all the hubbub were the findings on consumer satisfaction: 91% of home broadband users report being at least somewhat satisfied with the speed of their service.
- 50% of home broadband users are very satisfied with their home connection speed.
- 41% of home broadband users are somewhat satisfied with their home connection speed.
How Do We Measure Satisfaction?
So, people generally don’t know their speed, but they are largely satisfied. Are these findings at odds? I don’t think so.
I’m a pretty savvy Internet user, but I couldn’t tell you off the top of my head what the speed of my Comcast home connection is. We also have Comcast here at NCTA’s offices, so I can check Speedtest.net and tell you I’m getting 35.74Mbs down / 4Mbs up. A colleague checked it earlier today and got 45 down / 6 up.
But I had to check to get those figures, because I don’t really need to know the speed I’m getting. What I’m interested in is whether I’m having a satisfactory experience. Are web pages loading? Is my streaming video buffering too much?
As NCTA has explained (See this previous post: The Measure of “Measurement”), and the FCC has acknowledged, online speed tests can provide a measure of the speed that a user experiences, but they do not necessarily provide an accurate measure of the performance of a user’s broadband provider because the results also are affected by the performance of home networks and the public Internet.
Occasionally, I’ll download really large files, but I don’t use any low latency applications. Therefore, for email, web browsing and streaming media, a steady connection covers my needs. My Internet experience is also affected by the computer I’m using and the sites I visit, which can only load the content so quickly in any case.
And since my cable provider keeps periodically increasing the speed of my cable modem service at home, I don’t keep up with what it is at any given point (although I know I passed 10 Mps some time ago). As long as it works and I can do all the things I need to do, I don’t otherwise pay attention.
The FCC’s survey suggests that the vast majority of users may have a similar view. In that sense, it is worth noting that the survey seems to present a very different – and more accurate – picture than you would get if you only read the comments that are posted on blogs that cover this issue.
The Future of Fast
Some people need a super-fast connection or do need to worry about latency, such as gamers. And as such applications as telemedicine or high-definition teleconferencing become more prevalent, more people will fall into this category. In the future, I may pay much closer attention to the speed I receive.
Cable operators appreciate that different consumers may need different levels of service and that some customers may be more concerned with the specific details of their service than others. That’s why NCTA has been working closely with the FCC on the testing initiative announced on Tuesday. The SamKnows test should be a good starting point in developing a common method by which all broadband providers can measure the speed they deliver to consumers.
But the reason 80% of users don’t know the speed of their connection may be because that’s not how they measure satisfaction.