June 23, 2016
In this paper, we examine ways of empirically measuring broadband internet performance in the United States, and discuss best practices for using that performance data for consumer education on broadband issues. Broadband performance is affected by complicated factors that are not always recognizable to the consumer. Although methodology is often overlooked, different approaches can expose different aspects of performance. The individual merits and drawbacks of a given methodology are contingent on its use case: what do you want to know, and is your measurement designed to uncover it? There may be no “best” single methodology for measuring broadband performance, but there are best practices; the most useful performance data requires a consistent, reproducible methodology that provides full transparency for those using the data into its underlying assumptions, and in turn, the data’s strengths and limitations. These principles are considered in a brief case study of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Measuring Broadband America program, and the paper concludes by urging the FCC and internet service providers to better integrate performance measurement considerations into consumer-facing transparency disclosures for broadband service.
These recommendations come at a time when conversations about broadband measurement are unfolding in the U.S. and abroad. We hope they are useful to providers as they consider alternatives to the FCC’s “safe harbor” for compliance with the 2015 Open Internet Rules, to the FCC itself as it considers adjustments to the Measuring Broadband America program in the future, and to other consumers, researchers, and advocates wishing to better understand broadband measurement. Additionally, issues related to broadband measurement have global implications as well, particularly as the Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC), the regulating agency of the telecommunication market in the European Union, has issued draft guidelines for implementation of the EU’s network neutrality rules. The guidelines include an extensive discussion on transparency, and we hope the recommendations here can help instruct best practices abroad.