One in four web users say they doubt that their Internet connection is always as fast as the service provider advertises, according to a recent Federal Communications Commissions survey. Now, to see whether the broadband connections widely described as "blazing fast" in advertisements are indeed offering what consumers are paying for, the agency wants to sign up 10,000 households for the biggest test of web connection speeds ever conducted in the U.S.

Joel Gurin, chief of the FCC's consumer task force, said consumers deserve to know what speed they really need for gaming, video and e-mail, what speeds they are paying for and what speeds they are getting in order to fairly compare Internet service plans.

"We need a marketplace which is transparent," he said at a news conference Tuesday. "We do believe there is a gap between advertised speed and actual speed," he said.

In its National Broadband Plan to bring fast web access to every home in the country released earlier this year, the FCC cited a study suggesting that as many as half of households may not be getting advertised speeds.

In the just-released survey, the FCC found that 80% of the 3,005 adults it questioned in April and early May didn't know the speed of their broadband connection. The survey also found that while 91% are "very satisfied" or "somewhat satisfied" with their connection speed, only 24% believe they always get the speed they are paying for.

Gurin noted that the results of both studies can be impacted by a number of factors that have nothing to do with connection speeds, including the age of a person's computer and home networking hardware and the number of household users accessing the web at any given time.

The FCC tapped SamsNow, a British company, to conduct the more than $600,000 test. The study is being funded by money from President Obama's economic stimulus plan.The FCC test calls for installing boxes that specifically check the line speed coming into a home at various times of day and with various types of downloads. The FCC said it hopes to have the results of the speed tests by early next year and will report the results by kind of carrier, by time of day and by promised broadband speed. It is also looking at doing a similar test of speed for cell phone connections to the web.

"The big issue is knowing what you are getting," said Gurin. "High speed on the more expensive tiers can cost hundreds of dollars more."

The FCC is asking for volunteers at www.testmyisp.com. It will eventually cull through the applications to ensure it has a balance of testers using different kinds of connections, different connection speeds and in different locations, both regionally and city versus rural areas. The testing will also include checking individual web sites. Gurin said the FCC will work to carefully protect privacy of any individual downloading information obtained.

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