The FCC lets you find out just how lousy your broadband connection is

Broadband speed tests are nothing new to many readers of this site. Most of us probably use Speedtest.net. But the fact that the FCC has posted a broadband test tool profiled prominently on the Broadband.gov website, shows how politically sensitive broadband — its presence and absence, its cost and speed — has become. It’s getting to be like electricity. If you don’t have it, you might as well be living on another planet.

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The FCC’s tool lets you measure download and upload speeds, as well as latency and jitter (the last two are important for video and voice applications). Nobody talks about latency and jitter, and that is a shame. For high quality video conferencing, less than 20 ms of jitter is best. Latency under 30 ms is excellent.

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Test results vary depending on the test

When you run the test, it randomly assigns you to the Ookla test or the M-Lab test. Note: The M-Lab test does not work with Safari, Chrome and Opera browsers. You need to use Firefox or (heaven forbid) Internet Explorer.

When I measured my broadband connection at home using the FCC’s test (both Ookla and M-Lab) against Speedtest, this is what I got. The reported speeds, latency and jitter vary wildly among the different tests. I ran the tests over my Wi-Fi network (using Apple Airport Extreme 802.11n) and a new iMac. My ISP is Webpass in San Francisco. The Ookla test result in (2) for upload speed is the oddest one.

Both Speedtest and M-Lab reported my upload speed to be between 58 megabits per second and 63 megabits per second. Jitter and latency, according to the M-Lab test, are quite low, with 17 ms and 18 ms respectively. Using PingTest, they were 24 ms and 15 ms.

(1) Speedtest and PingTest

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(2) FCC Test (Ookla results)

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(3) FCC Test (M-Lab results)

And if you have no broadband?

For those who can’t even measure broadband speeds because they’ve got NO broadband, the FCC has an option: the Broadband DeadZone Report. Here’s where you get to tell our civil servants in Washington that you don’t have broadband. I wonder if the FCC will put up a Google maps mashup of all this data.

If you have a wicked sense of humor, you might actually fill in this page if your broadband download and upload speeds are under 10 megabits per second. But, let’s not test the FCC’s patience.

Are you a measurement freak?

If, like me, you’re into measuring all sorts of aspects about your Internet connection, visit the M-Lab website. You can use their tools to test if your ISP is blocking or throttling BitTorrent, you can diagnose problems limiting speed, and determine if your ISP is degrading the performance of certain applications or a subset of users, and more.

Comments

  1. Esme Vos says:

    More on the FCC broadband test in an LA Times article by David Lazarus:
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-lazarus19-2010mar19,0,6447947,full.column

    And Ken Biba says in the MuniWireless Group discussion on Linked In: “The test is adequate, but in my testing has some flaws. It sends/receives only ten seconds of data … and in my experience that small a data test is very noisy. I have found that a test of at least 60 seconds is required to get a stable performance measurement.”