Navigating the FCC Broadband Label: Data Requirements & Testing Methodologies

Posted by John Sarkis on Mar 20, 2024 1:44:56 PM
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Broadband nutrition labels are a game changer for consumers, empowering them to make informed choices based on clear information about advertised speeds versus real-world performance.

However, for ISPs, these labels represent a significant challenge. Meeting the FCC's data requirements for accurate data hinges on reliable testing methodologies.

It doesn't help that the FCC hasn't released a clear framework for speed testing similar to what they did for CAF Performance Testing, nor how they plan to keep ISP's accountable for the speed data they submit.

Without independent, objective performance testing, ISPs risk not only running afoul of regulations but also, more importantly, eroding consumer trust – a critical factor in the increasingly competitive broadband market. 

This blog will dive into the data needed for these labels, and why we think third-party testing is the best solution. 

What Data is Needed?

The FCC's broadband nutrition labels mandate the disclosure of specific performance indicators crucial for consumer transparency. These KPIs empower users to make informed decisions about their internet service providers (ISPs). Here's a breakdown of the essential data points:

Typical Download Speed: This metric reflects the average speed users can expect when downloading data from the internet to their location. 

Typical Upload Speed: This KPI represents the average speed users can expect when uploading data from their location to the internet. 

Typical Latency: This metric measures the average time it takes for data packets to travel between a user's device and a designated server. 

The USAC hasn't been completely clear about what 'typical' speeds are, with this being the best explanation found in the release: 

Actual Speed. The term “actual speed” means the typical upload and download speeds period for a particular speed tier, either based on Measuring Broadband America (MBA) methodology, or other relevant testing data.

The data should be relevant and refreshed every six months. 

Another key question regarding the USAC's new internet speed labels centers is enforcement. While the labels themselves promote transparency by requiring ISPs to disclose advertised speeds, it remains unclear how the USAC plans to verify these claims and ensure providers are delivering what they say they are.

The lack of a defined testing methodology, beyond a general reference to a framework similar to the Measuring Broadband America (MBA) program, raises concerns about the enforceability of these new requirements.

Testing Your Network: Options

Using the information that we have, implementing a testing methodology similar to the MBA framework or previously accepted testing formats (such as CAF testing) is crucial. Here's a look at different testing methods, along with why we think partnering with a third-party organization can be your best bet for reliable internet speed testing.

Internal Testing: As an ISP, you can set up your own testing infrastructure to measure network performance metrics like download speed, upload speed, latency, and jitter. This offers control over the testing environment, but limitations exist. Internal testing might not reflect real-world user experiences due to limited geographical reach and a lack of diverse traffic patterns. Additionally, internal results can raise questions about bias if regulators or consumers scrutinize them. 

Public Speed Tests: Public speed tests are readily available online and offer a convenient way to gauge performance. However, these tests often rely on geographically dispersed servers that may not accurately represent a user's connection to your network. Additionally, public speed tests can be congested, leading to skewed results. With that said, these might offer the highest quantity of relevant data points. 

Third-Party Testing: Partnering with a third-party testing organization provides several advantages. Third-party testers utilize industry-standardized methodologies and geographically diverse testing locations, ensuring accurate and consistent results that reflect real-world user experiences. More importantly, third-party verification adds a layer of neutrality and transparency, fostering trust with consumers and regulatory bodies and lowering the risk of a potential audit. 

Looking Towards the Future

The USAC's new internet speed labels are a positive step towards empowering consumers with clear information. However, the success of these labels ultimately hinges on a robust enforcement plan.

Developing a standardized testing methodology and outlining clear consequences for violations will be crucial in ensuring ISPs are held accountable for accurate speed advertising. Consumer advocacy groups and regulatory bodies will likely play a key role in pressuring the USAC for further clarification.

As this story unfolds, staying informed about the enforcement details will be essential for both consumers and ISPs.

ATS Can Help With Broadband Label Testing

ATS has been navigating the evolving internet regulatory landscape to ensure our clients stay compliant with broadband speed and latency testing, especially for the new nutrition labels

Our testing doesn't just identify issues; it helps you address them proactively, leading to improved service quality, reduced churn, and increased satisfaction. Imagine proactively fixing network bottlenecks before they become widespread problems!

Contact us to get up and running in days. We offer a free demo and sample to get hands-on experience with our Stamper Box that can test your network in compliance with the new broadband labels. 

Topics: Telecom Data Analytics, Regulatory, stamper box, connect america fund, speed testing