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T-D Readers Take Web Speed Test: Results Suggest Region’s Broadband is Faster Than What’s Typical in Va., U.S.

July 4, 2008

By Greg Edwards, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

Jul. 4–More than 250 readers of the Richmond Times-Dispatch tested the speed of their Internet broadband download and upload speeds and reported their results.

Based on those reports, digital subscriber lines can be iffy, Verizon FiOS (fiber-optic) stays closer to the advertised speeds and Comcast cable broadband, though inconsistent, generally exceeds download expectations.

Readers were asked to test their Internet speeds at www. speedmatters.org. The Web site gauges the speeds of incoming and outgoing data by connecting with the closest of seven computer servers around the country. In the Richmond area, the test involved a server in the Washington area.

Internet service offerings with download speeds of 768 kilobits per second or more are considered broadband.

The original article that issued the invitation to test broadband speeds prompted readers by asking whether they were getting the level of service they were paying for. The answer from the unscientific response is, for the most part, yes.

Broadband users in the Richmond area appear to be enjoying better speeds from their Internet connections than is typical for Virginia or the country as a whole.

The average download speed for the group of respondents was 10,095 kbps and the average upload speed was 1,610 kbps.

The median download speed for newspaper readers — the speed at which half of respondents reported higher speeds and half lower speeds — was 5,500 kbps.

In a report by Speed Matters presented to Congress in May, the median download speed was 1,973 kbps in the U.S. and 2,394 kbps for Virginia, less than half the newspaper respondents’ speed. Speed Matters is a project of the Communications Workers of America union, which is working to promote more universal broadband access.

Of the 250 replies, the highest reported download speed came from a Comcast customer with a Glen Allen address, who reported a blazing 38,514 kbps download. The highest upload speed, 4,559 kbps, was reported by a customer of Verizon’s top-tier FiOS service in Midlothian.

A study released this week by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 55 percent of American adults have broadband connections at home, up from 47 percent last year. The broadband growth rate from March 2007 to April 2008 was 17 percent.

Only 10 percent of Americans still have dial-up Internet service at home, the study found.

Comcast and Verizon were, by far, the top two service providers for the local respondents. Others were served by Sprint wireless air-cards, Cavalier Telephone DSL, MetroCast cable, Kinex DSL, HughesNet satellite, AT&T DSL, Shentel DSL and nTelos DSL.

For Comcast, it was hard to differentiate between two service tiers offered by the company, and we did not ask readers to state which they pay for. The company offers a 6,000 kbps package for $42.95 per month and a 8,000 kbps package for $52.95. Both include technology that claims to double those speeds when downloading large files. The tiers provide upload speeds of 1,000 and 2,000 kbps, respectively.

The average download speed for Comcast service reported was 15,008 kbps, but with one Richmond reader reporting a turtlelike 802 kbps download. The average upload speed was 1,981 kbps.

Verizon FiOS, which has boosted its speed offerings nationwide since the Speed Matters test invitation, sells four FiOS service packages the Richmond area, including a 10,000 kbps download with 2,000 kbps upload deal (formerly 5,000/2,000) for $42.99 per month and a new 20,000 kbps download with 5,000 kbps upload package (formerly 15,000/2,000) for $52.99.

Verizon also started a 50,000 kbps download and 20,000 kbps upload deal. It sells for $89.95 per month in Virginia and New York, $50 less than anywhere else in the country.

Most readers reported their Verizon FiOS speeds before the speed upgrades. The average download speed for the FiOS 15,000/2,000 kbps service was 14,564 with an average upload of 1,948 kbps. For the FiOS 5000/2000 kbps service, the average download was 5,038 kbps and average upload was 1,766 kbps.

Lou Dolinar, a Newsday columnist, notes that Internet speeds can vary for several reasons, some not related to the provider’s network. Variation can be seen with which speed test is taken. Lower-than-expected speeds can be network problems but also can be related to faulty equipment, poor wiring and connections, and badly configured or spyware-infected computers.

FiOS speeds tend to be consistent with what’s advertised, said Verizon spokesman Lee Gierczynski, because each customer has a dedicated fiber-optic line to their residence or business. “It’s not a shared connection [like cable],” he said.

Cable service is provided over coaxial cable connected to neighborhood nodes. Because broadband capacity is shared within the neighborhood, an increase in users — such as when children come home from school — can reduce speed.

Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas pointed out that the cable company’s inter-city network is all fiber optic. It is efficient and cost effective to bring network traffic into neighborhood nodes, he said.

Just recently, Comcast introduced a 50,000 kbps download/5,000 kbps upload service in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for $149.95 per month. Douglas said the service will be extended to 20 percent of Comcast’s U.S. market during the next 12 months, but he could not say when the Richmond area would be included.

The service will be accelerated to 100,000 kbps download within the next two years and go to 150,000 kbps downloads in the future, Douglas said.

Contact Greg Edwards at (804) 649-6390 or gedwards@timesdispatch.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.

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