2.5 million data points show: America's ISPs suck, and AT&T sucks worst

Josh from the Open Tech Institute writes, "Last week, researchers published the first results from the Internet Health Test, a public tool for consumers to measure their Internet speeds and gather data on broadband providers in the wake of the FCC's Open Internet Order.

The pro-net neutrality coalition Battle for the Net launched the test in May, and it has already produced an unprecedented amount of data: 2.5 million data points generated by more than 300,000 Internet users. This data trove gives researchers and the public valuable insight into whether broadband providers are complying with net neutrality rules.

Researchers from Measurement Lab analyzed this rich dataset and announced their initial findings last week. What they found should raise eyebrows: customers of AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon — the nation's five largest ISPs — experienced significantly degraded Internet performance during the first half of 2015. In effect, millions of Americans aren't getting the broadband service they paid for.

A key problem appears to be the gateways into the Internet's so-called "last mile" — the networks that ISPs operate to reach their customers. These gateways, commonly referred to as interconnections, are how most online content reaches Internet users. Despite the importance of this critical component of the Internet's architecture, there are few publicly available tools that measure interconnection activity. In such an opaque environment, anti-consumer behavior can occur without detection.

The Internet Health Test found evidence of significant congestion at interconnection points across the country. While congestion was observed on all of the nation's five biggest ISPs, AT&T was the worst performer.

In Chicago and Los Angeles, AT&T customers experienced speeds as low as 0.1 Mbps — basically unusable speeds, well below those advertised and the FCC's standard of 25 Mbps. AT&T customers in Atlanta didn't fair much better, with speeds dropping to 2 Mbps during peak use hours. The degraded speeds occurred when customers tried to access content across AT&T's interconnections with the transit provider GTT. Customers of CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon also suffered prolonged degradation in Seattle, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

The market for interconnection services has historically been competitive and healthy. These findings call into question whether that market is failing, and suggest that consumers are the collateral damage. Interconnection congestion is occurring on a national scale, even months after net neutrality rules were approved. Moreover, this data comes just as AT&T seeks government approval of its proposed merger with DirecTV, a transaction that would significantly expand AT&T's market power. The FCC should act to protect consumers from further harm.

New Opportunities for Test Deployment and Continued Analysis of Interconnection Performance [Measurement Lab]