For upload speeds, the performance is even better. This year, measured ISPs delivered 107 percent of advertised speeds, an increase from last year's 103 percent.
Overall, the FCC report said, "ISP promises of performance are more accurate," and have improved overall. Five ISPs measured by the agency "routinely deliver one hundred percent or greater" of the advertised speeds, even during peak times -- an improvement over the two ISPs that delivered such performance in 2011.
The FCC said improvements were real, in that they were the result of improvements in network performance and not the result of downward adjustments in speed tiers offered.
The report also said differences between ISPs were somewhat less pronounced this year than last. The 2011 report showed significant variances between the ability of top and bottom performers in meeting advertised download speeds. The standard deviation between top and bottom performers is now about 12.2 percent, down from 14.4 percent last year.
Report Drove Performance
The agency said that its discussions with ISPs indicate that its 2011 report was a "significant factor" in speed improvements, in that providers "have told us that last year's study provided valuable insight into the effectiveness of their practices." The results of last year's test appeared in advertisements, news reports and other outlets, thus providing an incentive for ISPs to improve their reported performance.
As an example, the FCC pointed to Cablevision, which last year provided only about 50 percent of advertised speeds during peak usage periods. In 2012, the same company delivered "better than advertised speeds across each of its speed tiers during peak periods," the agency said.
By technology, fiber-to-the-home services delivered 117 percent of advertised download speeds, while cable-based services provided 99 percent and DSL 84 percent. All three showed modest improvements over 2011.
Improvements at High Speeds
As for consumers, the report said that more consumers are subscribing to faster tiers this year than last, at least in part because of the upgrade in network capability. The average broadband speed tier in 2011 was 11.1 Mbps, which has increased to an average of 14.3 Mbps this year.
But from the perspective of a single user on a browser, continued improvements in speed may not be that noticeable in loading a Web page, the report found. It found that the "total time needed to load a page decreased with higher speeds, but only up to about 10 Mbps." Moving from one high-speed tier to another, such as moving from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps, may not offer "much, if any improvement in basic Web browsing from increased speed," because of such factors as latency.
Higher speeds, however, can affect the quality of bandwidth-intensive uses such as VoIP and video streaming, or the quality of all online performance in a multi-user household.