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The good/bad news about broadband

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Is the U.S. doing well with broadband or poorly? As the Federal Communications Commission sets it sights on reform and its National Broadband Plan, the answer seems more elusive than ever.

It seems like it should be easier to figure out, given that we increasingly have better, more informative tools at our disposal to measure broadband speeds and average speeds for various markets. (Ookla’s publicly-available Net Index is one example.) Yet, a recent MIT study reminds us that broadband is not all about speed — or at least that there or more variables at work than we usually acknowledge that add up to broadband speed statistics.

The MIT study alleges that many common measurements of broadband speed may be underrating speed by failing to consider a range of access network variables introduced by the condition of the end user’s home network architecture: how many devices are connected to a home network, whether or not a home wireless network is involved, what the Internet settings of specific devices are and other factors.

So, fine, maybe U.S. broadband access is not in as such a bad shape as some of us believe. However, you know the minute we grant this possibility some consideration, another study will come along showing us how awful things really are.

And here comes one now: A study commissioned by broadband equipment vendor Nokia Siemens Networks and carried out by the London Business School and consulting firm LECG establishes a "connectivity scorecard," on which the U.S. earned a 7.77 out of a possible 10. Three sevens together usually bode well in any situation, and the rating did give the U.S. the top spot on the scorecard after first-place Sweden. However, it is the first time since the study was first conducted in 2008 that the U.S. actually fell out of first place.

So things are getting worse? The scorecard report suggests that the condition of consumer broadband infrastructure is dragging down the U.S. That is the same infrastructure that MIT says is underrated.

What should we do about broadband when there are so many variables to consider and so much conflicting information flooding our brains? Another recent study may finally suggest the answer: Leichtman Research Group found that more than 71% of consumers are “very satisfied” with broadband access speeds. Maybe the answer is simpler than many of us think, and maybe we should put as much stock in customer opinion as we do in numbers.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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