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My ISP proposes various levels of net speed, namely 12, 15, 20, 50, etc., Mbps.

What would this most likely mean to the user on a daily basis? What does it mean for the ISP - what do they actually do to give their user a higher speed?

Empirically, how legit are those typically?

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closed as too localized by Diogo, random Sep 17 '11 at 1:50

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3 Answers 3

Depending on the ISP your average speed should be around the speed they advertise.

The FCC did a study on ISPs with average bandwidth tests: http://transition.fcc.gov/cgb/measuringbroadbandreport/Measuring_U.S._-_Main_Report_Full.pdf

Note the difference between Mbps and MB/s or Megabit/s vs Megabyte/s
8Mbps = 1MB/s

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There are many factors involved, but typically with one tier you can expect at minimum the previous tier since they don't want you to downgrade your connection with them. This is of course when it's in their control.

Some cable ISP's will happily grant you access to overhead bandwidth - that's more of a regional and less of a company policy though. A good thing to do is go to http://www.broadbandreports.com/search and enter your area. You can get most recent speeds by various ISP's though this may not indicate the packages individuals are testing from it can give you a general idea of consistency.

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The other answers pretty well cover the "up to" part and many of the factors that can contribute to that speed. As far as how they set the top speed for each tier of their plan, their hosting system has the capability of throttling each connection (some do it at the cable modem level and some do it at their network center level or somewhere in between). Once you reach the maximum allowable speed at any given point in time, your connection is throttled and not allow to go any faster.

Theoretically, at least, your connection is capable of speeds far greater than what you usually get from casual use. If you're doing something like streaming a movie, downloading a huge file and playing an online FPS game at the same time, plus other computers in your household are also doing things at the same time, you can up that bandwidth being demanded significantly.

By throttling users at various levels your provider accomplishes a couple of things. They make sure that there is enough bandwidth for all their clients in an area, they make sure that those who demand and use more bandwidth are paying a larger share of the costs, and they make sure to squeeze every penny out of all their customers that they can.

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