broadbandThe Federal Communications Commission should take additional steps to evaluate its efforts to provide consumers with broadband performance information, advises a new U.S. Government Accountability Office report. The recommended additional steps include conducting or commissioning research on the effectiveness of FCC efforts and making the results of that research available publicly, and establishing performance goals that allow the commission to monitor and report on progress.

Several legislators – including Frank Pallone, Anna G. Eshoo and Edward J. Markey – asked the GAO last year to look into broadband performance information available to consumers, prompting the GAO to conduct a nine-month performance audit that culminated in the 32-page report titled “Broadband Performance: Additional Actions Could Help FCC Evaluate its Efforts to Inform Consumers.”

FCC Broadband Performance Data
The GAO highlighted several sources of broadband performance information that are available to consumers and the limitations of that information. This includes:

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  • Broadband performance information that Internet service providers are required to disclose. According to the GAO, ISPs’ disclosures vary, making them difficult to compare. The GAO notes, though, that the FCC recently enhanced ISP reporting requirements
  • Speed tests that give consumers the ability to verify their broadband speeds. The GAO notes, though, that speed tests can be affected by many factors and may not detect congestion affecting a specific website, making it difficult for consumers to identify the cause of any problem they may detect
  • The FCC’s annual Measuring Broadband America report tests ISPs’ networks and compares actual and advertised speeds. But the GAO says the report is not targeted toward consumers, who may not be aware the report exists

FCC officials interviewed by the GAO noted that the agency frequently requests consumer comments before making broadband related decisions and that it also relies heavily on consumer complaints to gauge how well broadband is performing. But according to the GAO report, “although stakeholder comments and consumer complaints can provide FCC with valuable insights on topics of interest to the commission, the information FCC obtains from these sources lacks some of the characteristics of useful performance information, such as consistency and completeness.”

If the FCC does not act on the GAO’s recommendations, the GAO argues that the commission’s ability to make performance-based decisions will remain limited. And in an apparent reference to Open Internet reporting requirements, the report authors also argue that the FCC “may find it difficult to convince stakeholders that its enhancements to the transparency rule are warranted.”

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