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June 10, 2010

Speed Track


Last week the FCC released a report showing that 91 percent of US residents are pleased with their broadband connection speed, even if they do not know exactly what that speed is. In response, the FCC expressed bewilderment that this could be true, demanding that customers must know the speed so that they could carefully shop.


Can most people rattle off the horsepower of their car or their lawnmower? Can most people even tell you what “horsepower” means? (Horsepower is a measurement of work over time. Move 33,000 pounds one foot in a minute and that is one horsepower). What about their furnace? Can they opine on how many BTUs it produces? (BTU stands for British thermal unit. Heat one pound of 60 degree water by one degree at a pressure equal to one atmosphere and you have one BTU).

Most people can tell you whether their vehicle can pull their trailer effectively or accelerate fast enough when needed. They know whether their riding mower can pair back the spring thickets or whether the family room is warm enough in January.

The FCC should not have been the least bit surprised by the results, much less now trying to make such technical knowledge, or lack thereof, proof of some failing of US broadband. What the FCC should do is learn the obvious lesson—consumers are not interested in speed as a number, they are interested in whether they can do online what they need to do.

A year ago IPI made this point to the FCC directly. “Defining a broadband goal in terms of a numerical standard may be interesting for international data compilation, and perhaps appealing to those who think that Americans want to emulate Korea and live in tiny apartments in what are little more than giant concrete bunkers with government broadband pipes on which they can play computer games and otherwise interact with ‘real life.’

“But measuring speed is simply the wrong approach. The question that needs to be asked is not ‘How fast is it?’ but rather ‘Does the system perform to meet the needs of users/consumers/taxpayers in this case?,’ or ‘Are we meeting the goals and vision as laid out by our public officials—have we made it to the Moon?’”

Now having been told by IPI and 91 percent of the public, maybe the FCC will get off the speed track.


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