Page-load Survey Informs Net Neutrality Debate

About a third of Internet users will abandon slow-loading websites within five seconds, and users of mobile devices expect website performance to be as good as it is on wired computers, according to a new survey that may have implications for the network neutrality debate in the U.S.

Thirty-two percent of Internet users would leave a Web page if it doesn't load within five seconds, according to the survey, released Tuesday by Gomez, the web performance division of Compuware, an IT application performance product vendor. However, only 17 percent of mobile-device users would stick around if a Web page fails to load within five seconds, according to the Web-based survey of 1,004 Internet users completed in late June.

The survey's results suggest that websites can be significantly disadvantaged by poor performance and bad connections, said Gomez CTO Imad Mouline. Thirty-seven percent of respondents said a slow-loading website would discourage them from coming back, and 27 percent said a slow-loading site would make them more likely to visit a competing site.

Gomez takes no position on a long-standing argument in Washington, D.C., over the need for net neutrality rules, but the survey results may inform the debate, Mouline said. The survey shows Web users' expectations for website performance are rising, he said.

Some Web companies may see that the survey results show a need for net neutrality rules from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission or Congress, Mouline said. Other companies may see the opposite -- that without net neutrality rules they could potentially pay broadband providers for priority access to their customers, he said.

"You can see it both ways," Mouline said. "One, 'let's make sure net neutrality is in place, so that carriers don't have the ability to decide who gets better performance and who doesn't.' There might be others who say, 'no, I'm a corporation, and I'm willing to pay a little bit extra to make sure that I get a leg up on the competition.'"

Gomez hopes the survey data will allow people on both sides of the debate to see "what's really at stake out there," he added.

In early August, Verizon Communications and Google unveiled a net neutrality proposal that would exempt mobile broadband services from rules enforced by the FCC. The survey, however, suggests mobile customers expect Web pages to load as fast or faster than on the wired Internet, Mouline noted.

Thirty-two percent said they expect websites to load faster or just as fast on their mobile phones as on their wired computers. Another 18 percent said they expected websites to load nearly as fast on their mobile phones, and 33 percent said they expect websites on mobile phones to load slightly slower.

A spokeswoman for CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, wasn't immediately available for comment.

Two-thirds of the people responding to the survey said they encounter a slow-loading website at least once a week, and 46 percent said they abandoned slow-loading sites very frequently or somewhat frequently.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantusG. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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