No, the FCC Did Not Increase Your Internet Speed.. But they do want to regulate it.

Recently, the FCC made headlines with an announcement that ostensibly seemed to require an imminent increase in internet speeds for American consumers. Yet, the reality is far more nuanced and requires a deeper understanding of what broadband means in a regulatory context, and how the FCC’s declaration has no teeth in a largely unregulated marketplace.

In my latest video, we dive into why the FCC made this declaration and some of the politics driving it.

In the commissions first adopted broadband assessment since 2015, they raised the standard for what should be considered high speed internet to 100 megabits per second downstream and 20 megabits per second upstream. The previous definition was 20 megabits down and 3 megabits up.

But this report is really more about tracking the rollout of broadband infrastructure in the United States, something the FCC is mandated to do per the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Congress set a goal of getting every American connected to broadband that year, and despite billions of taxpayer dollars going to telecommunications companies over the decades, nearly 45 million people still lack access to the minimum broadband specification in their communities. Or do they?

The FCC report excluded satellite services, even though most of the areas not covered by wireline broadband are within SpaceX Starlink’s service area. Starlink’s Internet service also meets the FCC’s newly defined minimum specifications for a broadband connection. The FCC’s two Republican commissioners voted against adopting the report because of this exclusion.

In their dissenting opinions, the Republican commissioners argue that by excluding Starlink and thus making the nation’s broadband rollout appear stalled, the Democrats on the commission are laying a foundation by which they can impose heavier regulation on Internet Service providers. This is because the 1996 telecommunication law requires the FCC to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment” if the agency issues a negative report on broadband access.

And the FCC is doing just that. On a similar 3-2 vote in November, the FCC began the process of re-classifying ISPs under Title II rules. The FCC previously moved ISPs into the Title II category during the Obama administration over net neutrality concerns which was later reversed by the Trump administration.

But Title II regulation can go far deeper than just net neutrality, including regulating pricing, requiring ISPs to provide access to remote areas, and much more. The Republicans argue that the market will take care of these things and no further regulation is needed. The Democrats say that after three decades of “light touch” regulation the broadband rollout has not achieved the 1996 goal of universal access.

But is it necessary to apply Title II everywhere? I think a more balanced approach is needed. In my area we went from one provider (Comcast) to now having five with potentially more on the way – all meeting and exceeding the minimum broadband standards with no data caps. Do we need regulation here? Likely not.

But there are parts of the country that still only have one provider that may not meet the broadband standard, applies expensive data caps on service, and holds back infrastructure investments. Perhaps regulating markets like this and lifting regulations when competitors enter those markets might be a smarter approach.

And it may not be necessary for Title II to apply either. In the 1996 law, the FCC has the ability to impose price caps, remove regulatory red-tape that prevents competitors from accessing pole attachments along with other regulatory powers to encourage competition and market choice. It is not clear how much of those powers the FCC has exercised over the years.

I’m sure there will be more to come on this topic! Stay tuned.

A Review of Verizon’s 5G Home Internet Service

In my latest video I explored the performance of the Verizon Wireless 5G home internet service at a friend’s house here in Connecticut. See the full review here!

Verizon’s home Internet service is an affordable option for existing Verizon Wireless customers, with plans starting at $25/month. While the service provides fast download and upload speeds in ideal locations, it may not be great for everyone depending on location and use case.

My review found that the service works well for casual activities such as video streaming, web browsing, and email. But I found ping rates to be all over the place which is a problem for gamers who need low and consistent ping rates.

Verizon is not imposing data caps on these plans at least for the time being. From their FAQ it does not appear as though they are even throttling every users although I do get the sense that they are prioritizing mobile users over their home customers based on the ping rates I’m seeing.

Ultimately the performance of the service will vary greatly based on location. My friend lives right next to a Verizon 5G tower so this is likely the best case scenario for the service. I am only a mile or so away as the crow flies and I’m only seeing 20 megabits downstream and an abysmal 1.5 megabits up!

I recommend testing the service with a 5G Verizon phone in or around your home before signing up. If you’re in a good location relative to a tower, Verizon’s 5G home internet service is a viable alternative for casual users. But it may not meet the needs of streamers or gamers.

See more of my ISP reviews here!

The Home Internet Market Gets Competitive in Connecticut

What a difference three years make. Back in 2020 I was continually frustrated over the quality of my Internet service from Comcast which was my only choice of Internet provider.

Fast forward to 2023 and my region now has no less than six options for broadband with competition lowering costs, removing data caps and focusing on customer service. That is the topic of my latest video.

Frontier Communications recently wired up the area with their new XGS-PON based fiber optic network. The formerly bankrupted phone company managed to refinance their debt and pull themselves out of bankruptcy. They are now very aggressively rolling fiber out throughout the state offering up to 5 gigabit symmetrical connections. My Dad got their 500 megabit service installed at his house back in August. Check out my review of it here.

Frontier has some headwinds though. Although they are out of bankruptcy they have acquired new debt to fund the fiber optic rollout. Bond rating agencies are not all that bullish on the company’s prospects with Fitch downgrading their outlook on Frontier to “Negative.” Frontier also has a huge backlog of dilapidated utility poles in Connecticut that are in need of repair. Their lack of a sufficient local workforce and crumbling infrastructure makes me weary of their ability to recover quickly from a major storm.

Another fiber optic provider, GoNetSpeed, is also making its way into the area. GoNetSpeed is a scrappy small ISP that starts in a handful of neighborhoods and slowly expands their service offering based on consumer demand. They offer up to 1 gigabit symmetrical connections over a GPON residential fiber backbone. I interviewed an executive from the company a few years ago who was very open about their market strategy.

GoNetSpeed prefers to run fiber on poles vs. underground so neighborhoods with a lot of underground utilities will likely get passed by. But I do have a few friends with GoNetSpeed service in the West Hartford, Connecticut region who have been very happy with the service offering.

And then of course we have Starlink service which is available now throughout most of the United States and other parts of the world. It’s expensive but it works. In my testing here in Connecticut I was seeing download speeds between 200-300 megabits per second and uploads around 20. You can see my Connecticut impressions of Starlink here.

My brother lives in a very rural area of northern Vermont with awful DSL service. Starlink was a huge game changer for him and his business. You can see his experience with Starlink in my Starlink Playlist here.

Closer to planet Earth there’s additional wireless options from Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile. As their 5G networks roll out they have added capacity to deliver home Internet service and many in my region are finding it to be a good alternative. A friend of mine locally just switched from Comcast to Verizon and is very happy with the service so far.

Neither company is offering any speed guarantees primarily because performance is variable based on the home’s proximity to a cell phone tower. The best way to figure out what your experience will be like is to take out your smartphone and run a speed test near a window.

As you can see my performance here isn’t great so Verizon’s Home Internet is not an option for me. But other parts of town are seeing gigabit downstream speeds and 100-200 megabits upstream making Verizon’s 5G service a viable competitor to Comcast’s service offering.

And speaking of Comcast they’re still in the marketplace and now finding themselves on defense. As the Northeast has become more competitive they dropped plans to introduce data caps like they have in other parts of the country. They’re planning to rollout support for Docsis 4.0 technology that will provide for a fiber equivalent symmetrical connection of up to 4 gigabits per second over Comcast’s existing copper network.

Comcast also has a “secret menu item” called Gigabit Pro X6 that can deliver a “metro ethernet” fiber optic connection from a home directly into the nearest Comcast head-end facility. This service began as a 2 gigabit symmetrical connection but is now running at a crazy 6 gigabits as local markets became more competitive. At $320 a month it’s not cheap but it’s the highest quality and fastest residential connection on the market. This is the service I currently use and I’m very happy with it.

Gigabit Pro availability is based largely on how far you are from the nearest fiber splice point or node. If it’s close enough there’s a good chance they can get you connected.

It took a little persistence and self-education about fiber networks to get connected. Comcast originally said I was miles from nearest connection point but as it turned out there was a splice point at the end of my street they were able to wire me into. Check out my full playlist on the service here and see what it took to get the connection operating here at the house.

I’ll be sticking with Gigabit Pro for the foreseeable future. Since it was installed in October of 2020 I’ve had less than an hour of total downtime with more bandwidth than I could ever use. But it’s great to see so many choices for consumers after a decade without any.

Gigabit ISPs: Real World Usage vs. Speed Tests

One of the things I talked about recently in my Gigabit Pro update video is that even though you have the bandwidth you likely will never make full use of it on any single task.

Sure it’s possible to run a speed test to fully saturate the connection as I have done many times, but when doing real world tasks things work differently. So even though I have a full six gigabits available, I’m usually only getting about half a gigabit to each location I’m sending data to.

The image above was taken from my Unifi app as I was uploading an 8.7 GB video to YouTube and Floatplane simultaneously. Each can only take about 500-600 megabits per second.

Remember the Internet is not one network. So it’s possible that within Comcast’s infrastructure I can utilize the full bandwidth. But once we cross outside the network it depends on how different networks interoperate and what kinds of bandwidth they allow across those crossing points. In some cases there are multiple networks to traverse!

New Video: Comcast Doubles “Gigabit Pro” Speeds to 6 Gigabits Per Second

About a year and a half ago I installed Comcast’s fiber optic Gigabit Pro service at my home. I documented the process over the course of several weeks that you can see on this playlist.

When the service was first installed in October of 2020 it offered a 2 gigabit connection over an SFP+ circuit along with a second 1 gigabit RJ45 circuit. A few months later they increased the SFP+ speed to 3 gigabits.

This past week Comcast announced they were upping the speed again, this time doubling it to a full 6 gigabits per second over the SFP+ while still maintaining the 1 gig circuit for a total of 7.

But what can you do with that amount of bandwidth realistically? Well, it largely depends on what you’re looking to do along with network conditions and interoperability agreements.

As you’ll see in this week’s Weekly Wrapup, it’s relatively easy to hit the full speed when running a speed test to one of Comcast’s servers, but it’s harder to reach those speeds when testing servers on networks outside of Comcast’s infrastructure. For example when I upload YouTube videos rarely do I see the connection hit 1 gigabit, let alone 6.

Still having a multigigabit connection has been a real game changer for my workflow. I’m very happy with the service reliability and the dramatic reduction in upload times for my videos.