Who is the Fastest ISP?

I regularly run across articles that ask which major ISP is the fastest. Most of these articles get their speed data from Ookla, which publishes comparative median broadband speeds for mobile and landline ISPs each quarter, like in this report for the second quarter of 2022.

Americans love a horse race – we like to rank things, and articles that rank ISPs grab readers. But we have to take articles based upon the Ookla rankings with a grain of salt. Ookla doesn’t make any claims about its numbers – it just presents the data.

There are a few things to note about the Ookla numbers. First, the results come from the many speed tests reported to Ookla. We know that a significant number of speed tests aren’t perfect due to issues at the customer end, such as an old WiFi router or taking the speed test at the far end of the house away from the WiFi router. Most importantly, Ookla reports median speeds – meaning half of all speed tests for a given ISP are faster, and half are slower than the value shown. Median speeds don’t seem to be a great metric for comparing ISPs.

Here are the median speeds for the second quarter from Ookla for the largest landline ISPs.

Download Upload
Cox 196.73 10.60
Xfinity 184.08 18.88
Spectrum 183.84 11.70
Verizon 171.01 112.36
AT&T Internet 146.64 112.27
Frontier 136.99 113.21
CenturyLink 41.29 12.02

What do these numbers tell us (and not tell us)?

  • The results are only from customers who took speed tests. I have to think that customers who have blazingly fast Internet don’t take a speed test as often as customers who are seeing sluggish performance. Summarizing the speeds for only those who take a speed test is very different than measuring the average speed being delivered to all customers by an ISP.
  • One of the factors that likely has a big impact on the median speed is the mix of broadband speed products offered by each ISP. An ISP that sells a lot of 50 Mbps or 100 Mbps download products is likely to have a lower median speed than an ISP that has a minimum speed of 200 Mbps. The numbers above include ISPs with widely different speed products and prices.
  • This list only includes the largest ISPs. Smaller ISPs that offer fast products, like Ting, Sonic, US Internet, and many others, would blow away these median speeds.
  • I saw two articles that declared that Cox is now the fastest ISP in the country. Is it really? Just two quarters ago, at the end of 2021, Verizon had a median download speed of 201 while Cox was at 172. This variability from quarter to quarter is a good indication that you can’t make any serious judgment about an ISP based on median speeds. I can’t imagine that Verizon got slower – there was just a different mix of Verizon customers who took the Ookla speed test in the fourth quarter and the second quarter.
  • It’s interesting that none of the median upload speeds for cable companies is at the proposed 20 Mbps definition of broadband being considered by the FCC. This suggests more than half of all customers of the cable companies have upload speeds of less than 20 Mbps – and it’s likely that far more than half don’t achieve the 20 Mbps upload threshold. Is Cox really the fastest ISP when it doesn’t seem to meet the FCC’s proposed definition of broadband?
  • It’s clear that the measurements for CenturyLink include DSL. I’ve seen individual speed test results from CenturyLink Fiber customers that show symmetrical speeds – and far faster speeds than these numbers. By comparison, it looks like the Frontier, AT&T, and Verizon speeds are for fiber customers and don’t include DSL.

I like ranking as much as anybody, but I am unable to draw too many conclusions from the Ookla numbers. Perhaps the most you can say is that both fiber and cable companies are delivering decent download speeds – at least to the top 50% of customers. But these numbers are another example of the paltry upload speeds being delivered by the cable companies. I can’t pick the fastest ISP from this table – if I was forced to choose, I’d say Verizon. But that’s a pretty weak pick using median speeds. All of these ISPs offer a gigabit download product, and from that perspective, they are all the fastest – except for the ISPs not on this list that now offer a residential 10 Gbps broadband product.

2 thoughts on “Who is the Fastest ISP?

  1. Good article Doug but you left out a key point.
    Why is there r=1 correlation between top performers and Ookla’s top advertisers?

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