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Is your Internet up to speed?

Marketplace Staff Mar 17, 2010

Is your Internet up to speed?

Marketplace Staff Mar 17, 2010


Bill Radke: This week the Federal Communications Commission unveiled its plan to extend broadband Internet access across the country. The White House says it wants virtually every home and business in the U.S. to have high-speed Internet. But how do you know you’re getting all the speed you were promised when you signed up for a fast Web connection? We’re joined by Los Angeles Times business columnist David Lazarus. Good morning.

David Lazarus: Good morning.

Radke: So it’s not that simple? Your velocity may vary?

Lazarus: Yes, indeed. Your speed may vary. And interestingly, the FCC is taking a kind of census of Internet speeds nationwide right now. They want everybody to got to a Web site called Broadband.gov. You go there and you can do a free test of your computer using the FCC system now to find out what the download and upload speeds are. In other words, how fast things come to your computer, how fast things go from your computer.

Radke: How do these tests work?

Lazarus: Well, basically you’re going to connect to computers somewhere else. Because the FCC is trying to look for clusters of places where things slow down on the Internet, and if you extrapolate just a little bit, you realize what they’re also going to be looking at are the Internet service providers in that area, and whether they’re meeting their promise of so-called up-to speeds. When you get Internet service, typically they’re going to say, “Oh, and your speed will be up to 10MB per second.” But is it?

Radke: Are you up to speed?

Lazarus: I’d like to say I am. According to some of the tests, I’m over the speed. I talked to my Internet service provider yesterday and I asked, how can that be? He said, “Oh, well, you’re turbocharged.” What?

Radke: Sir, did you know how fast you were surfing? Where’s the fire?

Lazarus: Yes. Exactly. I had no idea what that meant. But other tests that I did showed me that I was a quarter of my up-to speed, so clearly there needs to be some kind of standard for these tests first of all. But second of all, the FCC wants to create the same kind of system like when you buy a new car and there’s a sticker on the window that has an average mileage. They want the exact same thing for broadband Internet service. When you get the service, they want an average speed posted instead of that up-to speed.

Radke: Isn’t fast basically fast? Is there really anything at stake to figuring just exactly how fast you are?

Lazarus: Dude, if you’re going to be downloading “Avatar” in 3-D, you want lightning-fast speed. If you’re just visiting the Marketplace Web site, maybe you can go a little slower.

Radke: OK. David Lazarus, from the L.A. Times, thanks for bringing us up to speed.

Lazarus: You betcha.

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