FCC is the Latest Dupe in Speed-Test Shenanigans

Shenanigans: is defined as the deception or tomfoolery on the part of carnival stand operators. In the case of Internet speed, claims made in the latest Wall Street Journal article, the tomfoolery is in the lack of details on how these tests were carried out.

According to the article, all the providers tested by the FCC delivered 50 megabits or more of bandwidth consistently for 24 hours straight. Fifty megabits should be enough for 50 people to continuously watch a YouTube stream at the same time. With my provider, in a large metro area, I often can’t even watch one 1 minute clip for more than a few seconds without that little time-out icon spinning in my face. By the time the video queues up enough content to play all the way through, I have long since forgotten about it and moved on. And then, when it finally starts playing again, I have to go back and frantically find it and kill the YouTube window that is barking at me from somewhere in the background.

So what gives here? Is there something wrong with my service?

I am supposed to have 10 megabit service. When I run a test I get 20 megabits of download enough to run 20 YouTube streams without issue, so far so good.

The problem with translating speed test claims to your actual Internet experience is that there are all kinds of potentially real problems once you get away from the simplicity of a speed test, and yes, plenty of deceptions as well.

First, lets look at the potentially honest problems with your actual speed when watching a YouTube video:

1) Remote server is slow: The YouTube server itself could actually be overwhelmed and you would have no way to know.

How to determine: Try various YouTube videos at once, you will likely hit different servers and see different speeds if this is the problem.

2) Local wireless problems: I have been the victim of this problem. Running two wireless access points and a couple of wireless cameras jammed one of my access points to the point where I could hardly connect to an Internet site at all.

How to determine: Plug your computer directly into your modem, thus bypassing the wireless router and test your speed.

3) Local provider link is congested: Providers have shared distribution points for your neighborhood or area, and these can become congested and slow.

How to determine: Run a speed test. If the local link to your provider is congested, it will show up on the speed test, and there cannot be any deception.


The Deceptions

1) Caching

I have done enough testing first hand to confirm that my provider caches heavily trafficked sites whenever they can. I would not really call this a true deception, as caching benefits both provider and consumer; however, if you end up hitting a YouTube video that is not currently in the cache, your speed will suffer at certain times during the day.

How to Determine: Watch a popular YouTube video, and then watch an obscure, seldom-watched YouTube.

Note: Do not watch the same YouTube twice in a row as it may end up in your local cache, or your providers local cache, after the first viewing.

2) Exchange Point Deceptions

The main congestion point between you and the open Internet is your providers exchange point. Most likely your cable company or DSL provider has a dedicated wire direct to your home. This wire, most likely has a clean path back to the NOC central location. The advertised speed of your service is most likely a declaration of the speed from your house to your providers NOC, hence one could argue this is your Internet speed. This would be fine except that most of the public Internet content lies beyond your provider through an exchange point.

The NOC exchange point is where you leave your local providers wires and go out to access information from data hosted on other provider networks. Providers pay extra costs when you leave their network, in both fees and in equipment costs. A few of things they can do to deceive you are:

– Give special priority to your speed tests through their site to insure the speed test runs as fast as possible.

– Re-route local traffic for certain applications back onto their network. Essentially limiting and preventing traffic from leaving their network.

– They can locally host the speed test themselves.
How to determine: Use a speed test tool that cannot be spoofed.

See also:

Is Your ISP Throttling your Bandwidth

NetEqualizer YouTube Caching

Five More Tips on Testing Your Internet Speed

By Art Reisman

Art Reisman is currently CTO and co-founder of NetEqualizer

Imagine if every time you went to a gas station the meters were adjusted to exaggerate the amount of fuel pumped, or the gas contained inert additives. Most consumers count on the fact that state and federal regulators monitor your local gas station to ensure that a gallon is a gallon and the fuel is not a mixture of water and rubbing alcohol. But in the United States, there are no rules governing truth in bandwidth claims. At least none that we are aware of.

Given there is no standard in regulating Internet speed, it’s up to the consumer to take the extra steps to make sure you’re getting what you pay for. In the past, we’ve offered some tips both on speeding up your Internet connection as well as questions you should ask your provider. Here are some additional tips on how to fairly test your Internet speed.

1. Use a speed test site that mimics the way you actually access the Internet.


Using a popular speed test tool is too predictable, and your Internet provider knows this. In other words, they can optimize their service to show great results when you use a standard speed test site. To get a better measure of you speed,  your test must be unpredictable. Think of a movie star going to the Oscars. With time to plan, they are always going to look their best. But the candid pictures captured by the tabloids never show quite as well.

To get a candid picture of your providers true throughput, we suggest using a tool such as the speed test utility from M-Lab.

2. Try a very large download to see if your speed is sustained.

We suggest downloading a full Knoppix CD. Most download utilities will give you a status bar on the speed of your download. Watch the download speed over the course of the download and see if the speed backs off after a while.


Some providers will start slowing your speed after a certain amount of data is passed in a short period, so the larger the file in the test the better. The common speed test sites likely do not use large enough downloads to trigger a slower download speed enforced by your provider.

3. If you must use a standard speed test site, make sure to repeat your tests with at least three different speed test sites.

Different speed test sites use different methods for passing data and results will vary.

4. Run your tests during busy hours — typically between 5 and 9 p.m. — and try running them at different times.

Often times IPs have trouble providing their top advertised speeds during busy hours.

5. Make sure to shut off other activities that use the Internet when you test. 

This includes other computers in your house, not just the computer you are testing from.


All the computers in your house share the same Internet pipe to your provider. If somebody is watching a Netflix movie while you run your test, the movie stream will skew your results.

Created by APconnections, the NetEqualizer is a plug-and-play bandwidth control and WAN/Internet optimization appliance that is flexible and scalable. When the network is congested, NetEqualizer’s unique “behavior shaping” technology dynamically and automatically gives priority to latency sensitive applications, such as VoIP and email. Click here for a full price list.

New Speed Test Tools from M-Lab Expose ISP Bandwidth Throttling Practices

In a recent article, we wrote about the “The White Lies ISPs tell about their bandwidth speeds“.  We even hinted at how they (your ISP)  might be inclined to give preferential treatment to normal speed test sites.  Well, now there is a speed test site from M-Lab that goes beyond simple speed tests. M-lab gives the consumer sophisticated results and exposes any tricks your ISP might be up to.

Features provided include:

  • Network Diagnostic Tool – Test your connection speed and receive sophisticated diagnosis of problems limiting speed.
  • Glasnost – Test whether BitTorrent is being blocked or throttled.
  • Network Path and Application Diagnosis – Diagnose common problems that impact last-mile broadband networks.
  • DiffProbe (coming soon) – Determine whether an ISP is giving some traffic a lower priority than other traffic.
  • NANO (coming soon) – Determine whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications, or destinations.

Click here to learn more about M-Lab.

Related article on how to determine your true video speed over the Internet.

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