Are Faster Internet Speeds Worth Paying For?

NBC 7 Responds looks at a new study from the Wall Street Journal that shows higher internet speeds aren’t worth the higher costs.

The internet age is upon us. Internet users want faster internet speeds for their home network. But, is paying more for faster internet speeds worth it? Experts say for most internet users that answer is a resounding no.

“There’s really not that much of a difference between 50 megabitsper second and 100 megabits, or a gigabyte for most of the things that you tend to do online,” says Shalini Ramachandran, a technology writer for the Wall Street Journal

Ramachandran and her colleagues at the Journal teamed up with researchers at Princeton University and the University of Chicago to look at the benefits of higher speed internet in typical American households. 

Their findings: the benefits do not outweigh the cost.

“It’s not gonna make much of a difference,” added Ramachandran.

For their study, the Wall Street Journal instructed participants in the study to stream seven different on-demand services such as Amazon Prime, Netlflix, Sling TV and others, all at the same time. They then checked the number of megabits per second they were using.

The Journal’s assembled team found that participants in the study used only a small portion of their overall bandwidth when streaming television shows and movies online. And, more importantly, they found the picture quality, clarity, as well as loading speed did not improve with increased bandwidth.

For those paying for the 100 megabit plan, they used anywhere from 5 to 7 percent of their bandwidth. One user used 65 percent of it for just one second before dropping back to 8.1 megabits per second.

And, for those paying for the premium package, they used only 2 percent of capacity to stream seven services at once.

Ramachandran also participated in the study. Her internet plan provides 15 megabits per second. During the test Ramachandran used nearly all of her bandwidth for the test but found no issues with picture quality.

Their findings led the Journal to conclude that cable and internet providers are “overselling” you when pitching high speed packages.

Ramachandran emphasized the study looked at average internet users and said the broader broadband may help those with large files, or gamers, but the benefits for those heightened users is not clear cut.

“Even when you’re paying for superfast speeds, your basically paying for a lot of fallow internet pipe,” said Ramachandran. “There’s marginal benefits to paying for these faster speeds that the providers are pushing on us.”

NBC 7 Responds reached out to the three largest internet providers in San Diego County; Cox Cable, Charter Spectrum - formerly Time Warner, and AT&T.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Cox Cable wrote, “While 1 Gig is now available to nearly all of our customers, 150 Mbps is by far our most popular tier because it meets the needs of most of our customers.” 

The spokesperson stated that consumer research shows many Cox customers “are running high bandwidth applications over multiple devices and want to always have the best and fastest, those who want to be prepared for the future even if they don’t need the speed now and those who want to be the first on the block to have it. Our customers also expect us to always be pushing the envelope even if they don’t subscribe to it now.”

A spokesperson for Charter Spectrum told NBC 7 Responds, “Customers demand that we consistently deliver an outstanding experience across every simultaneously connected device in their home. Customers already expect us to go far beyond simple streaming, connecting over 250 million devices to our network for online gaming, telecommuting, 4K video, IP video cameras, home automation, immediate downloads, instantaneous web browsing and more. As the number of connected devices continues to grow rapidly, along with new bandwidth-intensive applications and services, it’s imperative that our network delivers the speeds and capacity to meet growing consumer demand in real time.”

AT&T declined to comment for this story.

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