The broadband maps of Minnesota have been unveiled! This afternoon I got a sneak preview of the maps from the folks at Connection Nation (CN) – specifically from Brent Legg, Wes Kerr and Chip Spann. Connected Nation has been hired by the State to map access to broadband across Minnesota. The maps are being created to help the Ultra High-Speed Broadband Task Force make recommendations to the Legislature regarding a vision for broadband access in Minnesota.
I have a brief video clip from our meeting; I tried to catch the introductory key points. (I’m hoping to get the presentation they gave too and will post it when I can.)
According to the data collected (mostly from providers) 92 percent of the state is covered with broadband – as defined by greater than 768 Kbps download speeds. The 8 percent that is not covered comes to about 150,000 households or 418,000 people. Although participation by providers was not mandated by the State, CN heard from 98 providers of the estimated 225 providers in Minnesota, however it sounds as if they had heard from the largest providers. That being said they are working to get more data.
They mentioned that providers have been very accommodating. These are some of the quickest maps they have created and some of the most detailed – because the providers have been so helpful. While these maps have been created primarily based on data supplied by providers, the Connected Nation also did spot checks on speeds while out talking to providers. Chip said that he had personally tested speed on about 25 percent of the wireless providers.
The wireless providers were the most difficult to gauge. Apparently what they do is find the towers based on information from the provider, then they look at topography and foliage to create propagation maps that represent broadband speeds for a given area – then they ask the providers to take a look and chime in on how it looks compared to what they have experienced. (Yes – someone asked about what happens to the maps in June when you look at foliage in Minnesota in December. But what can you do when you’re hired in November to get a preliminary map done in February.)
Back to results – the average download speed in the State is 6.5 Mbps; upload speed is 1.5 Mbps. Those speeds may seem high– for that I think we can thank the Comcast Ultra High Speed service (up to 50 Mbps download speeds) available in the Twin Cities. (It’s $150 a month, but it’s there.) Folks in the room guestimated that if you took Comcast off the table that the average download speed would be closer to 1 Mbps.)
As I’ve said the maps were created primarily based on data supplied by providers and spot checks performed by CN staff. They also used speed tests performed by folks throughout the state.
The authenticity of the test came into question last week.
Apparently the test is limited to maximum connection of 10mpbs connection and the tests are run out of Texas. So CN improved the tests. They upped the maximum speeds tracked on the test – actually the good new is that this is the first time a state has need to up the maximum. They moved the servers to Chicago and they can now accurately measure symmetrical speeds.
One thing they can’t fix is the accuracy of the Ookla tests used to gauge speeds partially because there are so many things that come into play with testing bandwidth: the quality of the computer, the network card, congestion of Internet at just about every router. The engineers at ipHouse wrote up some nice scenarios for perfecting testing – but it requires pretty educated testers with the right equipment.
The Ookla test are an industry standard – so while they aren’t perfect, they are what’s available. So we are encouraging people to test their speeds. They will toss out any anomalies in the testing – both high and low. So the testing comes down to doing the best that’s technically possible. They want an inclusive but representative sample.
You can test your speeds here.
Attendees had some good questions – mostly based around the ability to balance the fact that most of the information originates from the providers. People were concerned about testing. CN noted that while 80 percent comes from fee for services (or grants such as a recent grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Fund) and 20 percent funding comes from partner providers. Yet they remain provider and platform specific.
People had questions about consumer satisfaction with their local provider, reasons for not getting broadband even when available, and general use of broadband. CN has looked at these issues in other states but they have not been asked or paid to look at those issues in Minnesota.
Finally there is skepticism about the map – especially when the map demonstrates that there is wireless in BWCA. On the flipside, some folks were very happy to have the maps.
I am looking forward to see what the Broadband Task Force thinks of the mapping at their meeting tomorrow. I’ll report more tomorrow night.