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Connections

Telecom analysis including broadband

EU Advertised vs. Real Speed

Europe Promises More Than it Delivers

The long-awaited SamKnows study of European broadband speeds and promises is out, and it confirms what we suspected: broadband subscribers in Europe do not get the performance they pay for. SamKnows first uncovered a major discrepancy between advertised and actual speed in the UK, and has now published a study of the 27 EU countries plus Norway, Iceland, and Croatia that confirms the problem is endemic to the entire continent:

It’s been long known that advertised broadband speeds rarely match up to the reality, but it turns out the disparity across Europe is in the region of 25 percent.

Consumers across the continent get on average three-quarters of the “up to” headline broadband speed advertised by their ISP, according to figures released on Wednesday by the European Commission. The EC survey involved more than 9,000 users in the 27 EU member states, as well as Croatia, Iceland and Norway, in March last year.

Surprisingly, UK advertised broadband speeds are no closer to reality than they’ve ever been; SamKnows says that xDSL users in the UK get 44.7% of advertised speed during peak hours, worse than economically-challenged Greece but better

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Rationalizing Government’s Spectrum Use

This Thursday, June 27, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on government spectrum use (titled “Equipping Carriers and Agencies in the Wireless Era,”) at 10:30 a.m. Invited witnesses include two from the government side, Teri Takai from DoD and Karl Nebbia from NTIA, and two from the civilian side, Dean Brenner from Qualcomm and  Chris Guttman-McCabe from CTIA.

According to the hearing memo, the questions to be asked will include:

How can Congress meet the needs of Federal agencies while addressing carriers’ spiraling demand for spectrum in the age of the smartphone? Americans increasingly expect—and our economy increasingly depends on—the ability to access information, enjoy content, and conduct commerce from a mobile device nearly anywhere in the country. And with most of the “low-hanging fruit” exhausted, the conversation is once again turning to spectrum currently used by Federal agencies to fill the breach. But government reliance on wireless technology shows no sign of diminishing, either. What tools are available to maintain and even improve Federal agencies capabilities while freeing spectrum for commercial use? How much would various approaches costs, and how long would

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Broadband Policy Contest: US vs. EU

We had an interesting discussion about broadband policy today, International Broadband Quality: How’s that Policy Working?

For several years, policy wonks have debated the merits and demerits of two competing broadband policies, the “facilities-based competition” policy we have the U. S. and the “wholesale unbundling” or “open access” policy the Europeans favor. For a long time, it was thought that unbundling would yield lower prices at the expense of ongoing investment while robust facilities-based competition would yield better quality at higher prices.

Things are roughly going that way, but there’s an additional issue in terms of value for money. The average cell phone/broadband bill is lower in the  EU, but the quality is so much lower that the value per dollar tilts in favor of the U. S. even though the bill is a little higher. Americans consume four times as many cellular minutes and twice as much data usage over mobile networks than Europeans. We also have faster speeds.

On the wireline side, our speeds are higher than those all all but three EU nations: Latvia, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Prices for middle tier broadband packages are lower

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U. S. Broadband Speed Slightly Better in Latest Akamai Report

Akamai published the Q4 2012 edition of their State of the Internet report yesterday, and it’s pretty much as expected: the trends that have been evident since 2010 are continuing. Globally, Internet connections are growing incrementally faster, and we see this trend in the U. S., where connection speeds are increasing somewhat faster than they are in other high-speed nations.

  •  The U. S. has picked up one place in the “Average Peak Connection Speed” that’s the best measurement of network capacity, rising from 14th to 13th as the measured peak connection speed increased from 29.6 Mbps to 31.5 Mbps.
  • In terms of the “Average Connection Speed,” widely cited by analysts who don’t know what it means, the U. S. remains in 8th place world-wide. but we’re no longer tied for it as we were in the previous quarter; Sweden is right behind us on this one.
  • In terms of “High Speed Broadband Adoption”, the proportion of IP addresses with an Average Connection Speed greater than 10 Mbps, we remain in 7th place, but now we’re tied with  Sweden.

Another notable trend is the continued increase in mobile traffic, about which

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How Much Broadband Choice Do Americans Have?

Subtitle: A Tale of Two Pictures.

There’s an ongoing debate about the number of Americans with meaningful choice among broadband providers. The answer depends on how you define the terms; it can range from less than half all the way up to 98 percent, although the low numbers demand some creative exclusions. If we limit broadband to wired systems provided by major providers, the answer the National Broadband Map provides is 85 percent, but this depends on a fairly loose definition of “broadband” in some cases. If you’re willing to include fixed wireless, you would have to count WISP connections and Clearwire, but there aren’t any good data on them. If you include mobile broadband, the number goes up to 98 percent, but you’re including service plans that currently have usage caps of 2 – 4 GB/month, which makes them challenging for video streaming but acceptable for web browsing and email. Throw increasingly capable satellite in the mix (Wild Blue now offers 12 Mbps over satellite for a low intro price of $50, but there’s a data cap) and we’re at 99 percent.

The FCC’s Internet Access Services: Status

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A mobile phone

Obamaphone in the Crosshairs

Here we go again. Some members of Congress are irate over the so-called “Obamaphone” program, initiated under President Bush, that provides poor people with subsidized mobile phones. They’re making it out to be a Welfare Cadillac plan that provides the undeserving with fancy phones at taxpayer expense. Karen Tumulty explains the high points of the issue in today’s Washington Post:

In the 31/2 years after false rumors started that the Obama administration was giving free cellphones to poor people — and six months after a racially charged video about it went viral — a once-obscure phone service subsidy is getting renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill.

There are growing calls in Congress to end or drastically cut back Lifeline; later this month, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing that could help determine its fate.

“The program has nearly tripled in size from $800 million in 2009 to $2.2 billion per year in 2012,” the senior Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote in a March 26 letter to the Democratic minority. “American taxpayers — and we as their elected representatives — need

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Crawford Has a Dream

At the Free Press annual conference in Denver today, the shameless Susan Crawford delivered one the most amazing speeches in the history of American tech policy, comparing herself to Martin Luther King, Jr. and demanding that President Obama appoint her to head the FCC.  Either one of these claims would be remarkable in its own right, but the combination of the two was simply breathtaking in its arrogance and narcissism. It hardly needs explaining that it’s an insult to the memory of Doctor King to compare him to a self-interested job seeker whose grasp of the subject matter required of the job she seeks ranges somewhere from slim to none, and whose respect for the facts of history is virtually non-existent.

Broadband, the Internet, telecom, media censorship and the other issues within the jurisdiction of the FCC are certainly important issues, and if they weren’t, organizations like ITIF and a host of others would not devote the time and trouble it takes to conduct painstaking research into the facts that define them. But to compare these issues to the civil rights movement is to trivialize the suffering brought on people

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Actor_portraying_Alexander_Graham_Bell_in_an_AT&T_promotional_film_(1926)

Phone Phreaks, STEM Freaks, and STEM Education

I have just finished a fascinating book about the history of phone hacking from the 1950s to the 1980s, Exploding the Phone by Phil Lapsley. The phone system was one of the first communications networks in America, and as such, just like today, it attracted its share of amateur hobbiests who wanted to understand how it worked, including finding out how to make free long distance calls, conferences calls and the like. While Apple founder Steve Wosniack may have been the first to create a “blue box” using digital instead of analogue technology (a blue box is the term for an electronic box made to mimic sounds on the phone system in order to trick the phone network into doing what the user wanted) he was hardly the first young person to “hack” the phone system. It turns out that a whole network of folks—what became known as Phone Phreaks emerged, and many became loosely tied into a network that compared notes on best practices. Some were high school students bored with school and fascinated with telephony, others college students also bored with classes. Several of the most prominent were

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Britain in America’s Rear View Mirror

Ofcom, the UK’s FCC, has published a broadband scorecard comparing Britain’s broadband networks to those of the other large European economies: France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. The report compares broadband deployment, subscription, use, and price in the five European nations that are most comparable and offers limited but interesting insight on performance.

The Brits are taking some stick from European critics who wanted Ofcom to produce a more comprehensive ranking against the entire EU-27 and especially speed merchants Latvia, Netherlands, Bulgaria, Romania, and Sweden. In Ofcom’s defense, the report does include an appendix that provides data on the rest of the EU.

The report is especially interesting as it comes on the heels of our report, The Whole Picture: Where America’s Broadband Networks Really Stand, on the ranking of U. S. broadband versus other nations, especially those in the EU and the OECD.

The UK is the only nation other than the U. S. to publish SamKnows data on broadband speed, so the limited data it has on performance is directly relevant for us. As readers of our report will know, there are many methods of measuring broadband speed,

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Infographic showing broadband choices in the US

Reacting to the Rankings

Ars Technica is the first blog to publish a point-by-point review of our report on America’s standing in the international broadband rankings, so we congratulate them on their timeliness if not their accuracy.  This is to answer questions they raised about sources and to suggest a better way to analyze the broadband problem than the one they offer.

Our figures on the pricing of entry-level plans come from the survey conducted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU,) “Measuring the Information Society 2011.” In 2008 and 2010, ITU collected responses from 165 nations that place the U. S. 2nd in 2008 and 4th in 2010 in low prices for entry-level broadband plans as a percentage of average income. This price point is important because it shows how low the barrier is for getting poor kids online (without exposing them to fast food.) We’re not the first to highlight America’s low prices for basic service; Yochai Benkler’s Berkman Center report “Next Generation Connectivity,” accepts that the U. S. has low prices for basic service as well. It’s not a controversial finding in the research community, even

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