Which providers’ internet speeds live up to the hype — actual vs. advertised speeds

Nicole George
Nicole George

Feb 5, 2019 — 5 min read

If you have DSL or satellite internet, your provider might not perform up to par. Learn about the FCC’s evaluation.

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If you’ve sat at home and wondered, “Why is my internet so slow?”, it’s probably time to look at boosting your Wi-Fi because there’s a good chance that the slow internet isn’t your provider’s fault.

The FCC’s 2018 Measuring Broadband America Fixed Broadband Report released in December 2018 looked at data collected in September 2017. The report found that some DSL and satellite internet subscribers experienced significantly lower-than-advertised internet speeds, but internet subscribers do generally get the speeds their internet service provider advertises.

Cable and fiber internet providers shine

In particular, cable and fiber internet speeds most closely matched, and even surpassed, advertised internet speeds.

According to the report, cable and fiber internet providers had the lowest amount of subscribers that experienced median internet speeds that were less than 80% of the advertised speeds.

In particular, Optimum, Charter Spectrum and Verizon Fios had 90% of customers attain a median speed of at least 95% of the advertised speed.

The report notes that Charter Spectrum, Xfinity, Frontier FiOS, Optimum and Verizon Fios all delivered consistent speeds. In a speed test, more than 80% of these providers’ consumers got download speeds greater than 90% of the advertised speed for at least 80% of the peak usage period.

Overall, the report showed that cable and fiber internet connections tend to be more reliable when it comes to getting the speeds you pay for.

In contrast, DSL internet providers had a number of subscribers who experienced median internet speeds that were less than 80% of advertised speeds.

So, how does your internet provider stack up when it comes to performing “up to” the advertised speed? Check out what the FCC found for each provider’s download and upload internet speed performance.

Compare top internet providers’ advertised speeds to actual performance

The table below outlines the approximate percentage of surveyed panelists who got median download speeds above a percentage of advertised download speeds.

Actual internet download speeds vs. advertised download speeds

Median download speeds from internet providers, measured in 2017 (FCC)

As you can see, cable internet connections most frequently gave surveyed panelists speeds that reached at least 95% of the advertised download speed. Remember that cable companies may not provide the fastest speeds out there, though. Fiber internet speeds may surpass available cable internet speeds depending on which providers offer internet in your area.

The table below outlines the approximate percentage of surveyed panelists who got median upload speeds above a percentage of advertised upload speeds.

Actual upload speeds vs. advertised upload speeds

Median upload speeds from internet providers, measured in 2017 (FCC)

As you can see, there were also discrepancies between advertised upload speeds and the median upload speeds that consumers actually experienced.

One notable improvement is that satellite internet upload speeds were much closer to advertised numbers than download speeds were. Unfortunately, some providers such as AT&T DSL and CenturyLink DSL had a greater discrepancy in actual upload speeds vs. advertised upload speeds.

A note about the median speeds and consistent performance

The speed you can achieve

One note to consider about the FCC’s report on median download and upload speeds compared to advertised speeds is that the survey was taken on speeds that panelists could achieve.

The internet speeds someone experiences at home can vary by time of day and by location. Just because you can reach a certain download or upload internet speed doesn’t mean you’ll consistently get that number.

80/80 measurements

Due to variances in broadband traffic throughout the day, the FCC also reported an 80/80 measurement. The 80/80 ratio measures speed consistency, and it indicates “the speed that at least 80% of the subscribers experience at least 80% of the time over peak periods.”

The FCC decided to take 80/80 measurements (what median download speed most consumers got during peak periods) and compare 80/80 speeds to advertised speeds.

The top performers in the 80/80 comparisons were Charter Spectrum, Xfinity, Frontier FiOS, Optimum and Verizon Fios. The FCC also notes that Charter Spectrum and Optimum had 80/80 consistent speeds that were greater than the advertised internet speed making their internet consistently faster than advertised.

The FCC explains that internet performance with these cable and fiber providers isn’t as sensitive to time of day or location, which is why performance was more consistent.

The worst performers in the 80/80 comparisons had the most drastic difference between consistent speeds and what speeds are advertised. The providers with the worst performance were HughesNet and Viasat. While both satellite internet providers can give you internet reaching close to advertised speeds, consumers don’t often get those speeds consistently.

What do advertised vs. actual speed differences mean for you?

When choosing internet based on whether or not you can get the speed you pay for, perhaps a cable internet plan is the way to go. According to these FCC reports, cable providers offer internet that most consistently meets advertised internet speeds.

Fiber internet is an excellent option as well. Plus, few fiber subscribers ever experienced a median internet speed less than 80% of advertised speeds. Cable and fiber internet are the internet connection types most likely to give you the internet speeds you pay for.

Considerations since it’s 2019

However, the FCC hasn’t looked at data since September 2017, so technological improvements and network expansions may mean that your internet options have improved.

For instance, the FCC noted in a previous report that in 2016, satellite companies had a lower percentage of panelists reach median speeds at least 95% of advertised speeds compared to 2015. The FCC attributed this to an increase in satellite internet users without more satellites to accommodate the volume.

Additionally, HughesNet started to sell internet plans with speeds up to 25 Mbps, which weren’t available or advertised in 2016. Plus, during speed tests in 2017, HughesNet peak median download speeds exceeded advertised download speeds in every speed tier.

Satellite internet technology has improved in recent years and companies have continued to deploy more satellites. Satellite internet will likely continue to get faster and more consistent.

So, why is my internet so slow?

Although your internet could be slow because of your provider, the majority of internet speed issues don’t have anything to do with your provider’s network. You may need to add a Wi-Fi extender upstairs in your home to get a better signal or move your internet router to optimize your connection.

There’s also the possibility that your favorite activities require faster internet speeds than you have. You might need to upgrade your internet plan to get more bandwidth… especially if your home has lots of connected devices.

There’s a variety of reasons your internet doesn’t perform up to the advertised speeds. When your actual speeds are different than advertised, it might be because your provider doesn’t offer as consistent service as other providers. However, if you see that your provider usually performs up to par, it may be time to upgrade your bandwidth or look at a new router.