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There's a battle going on over how internet providers advertise download speeds

TFW Netflix keeps having to buffer.

When you buy your internet service, it always comes with an advertised speed. So "up to 50 Mbps download," for example.

But you might notice that sometimes your speed doesn't come anywhere close to that number.

There's actually a fight going on right now about whether states can go after internet service providers (ISPs, for short) for advertising certain speeds – but not actually delivering it consistently to customers. And one of Minnesota's top officials is joining the push back against cable broadband internet.

Are you getting what you're being advertised?

While we describe this as a "fight," it's not a very thrilling one on the surface. It's all being done through petitions and comment filings with the FCC – the federal agency in charge of regulating communication networks in the U.S., such as cable internet or telephone lines.

On May 15, representatives from The Internet & Television Association and USTelecom (groups that support the cable and broadband companies) filed a petition with the FCC regarding advertised speeds. They argue that the FCC should declare nationwide guidelines for how ISPs present cable internet speeds to people.

Why? Because attorneys general from different states have been investigating whether those "up to" speeds advertised are accurate representations of the actual service customers get. In fact, in New York, the attorney general is suing Time Warner Cable over download speed claims.

This petition from the cable and broadband groups argues if states can question these advertising practices, it will lead to a "patchwork of inconsistent requirements" that rely on services like to determine whether a download speed advertisement is fair. And those services, the petition argues, are unreliable.

They're asking the FCC to issue a new declaratory ruling that says the current way ISPs advertise speeds meets all current federal requirements; meaning states couldn't investigate or sue the ISPs for false advertising.

34 states, including Minnesota, respond

This argument has not sat well with the attorneys general from 34 states and Washington D.C. Included is Lori Swanson, attorney general for Minnesota.

The group of bipartisan officials filed a comment with the FCC last week (which was published Monday), arguing that petition is a load of hooey.

"Like others providing goods and services to consumers in our states, providers of broadband Internet service must be truthful in their advertisements," the comment filing says. "Broadband access is an essential aspect of our constituents’ work, life and play."

The attorneys general say the cable and broadband groups' request is an "assault" on states' traditional power to protect consumers, and simply an attempt "to shield itself from state law enforcement."

In addition, they say states' powers in these cases are well-defined, and that the cable/broadband groups' request that the FCC declares their advertising practices "just and reasonable" is ridiculous, because there's no factual record to support that claim.

A spokesperson for Swanson's office, Ben Wogesland, told GoMN they would let the letter "speak for itself," and didn't have any further comment to add.

When asked if the state was currently investigating any ISPs operating in Minnesota for advertising speeds, the spokesperson said they can't confirm or deny any investigation. He cited the Minnesota Data Practices Act, which classifies investigative data as private, as the reasoning. (Though if a lawsuit gets filed, then it becomes public.)

What happens next?

The FCC is still taking comments. You can follow along and see all the files in this case here.

The American Cable Association has come out in support of the petition.

In 2015, an FCC report found the advertised "up to" speeds are generally close to what consumers get. But noted DSL broadband ISPs tend to lag behind the other services, such as fiber or cable. Here's the chart, showing how close each service got to 100 percent of their advertised speed:

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