Lunch Bunch Notes: understanding different types of broadband speed and performance tests

Thank you to everyone who attended and made richer the discussion on speed tests today. Speeds tests are just one deep dive into what makes broadband technology and policy hard to follow. It gets wonky quickly but it matters. It matters if you want the broadband you pay for in your home. It matters if you live in a community without adequate broadband and want to seek public funding to improve access. It matters if you are a policymaker and need to decide where to invest in broadband to best help your constituents. It matters if you are relocating your home or your business and you want to know where the best broadband can be found.

Today we had some generous experts really get into the details – special thanks to Glenn Fishbine (Geo Partners), Travis Carter (USI) Steve Howard (Paul Bunyan) and Diane Wells (Office of Broadband Development). We spoke a lot about the speed test sponsored by MN Broadband Coalition and hosted by Geo Partners.

I learned a lot and I hope to follow up with more discussions – but at a very high level we learned that speed tests are not all the same. Sites like Ookla’s Speed Test measure the speed of the connection or the circuit. They will give you the best case scenario – like how fast it might be for you to get to a big site like Netflix. Where as the GEO Partner test in Minnesota, which aligns more with MLab testing, tries to mimic a more complete experience that takes into consideration things like wanting to connect to a site that might have a lesser online presence (be off network). So they test worst case scenario. Also they are focused on testing speeds in communities that generally don’t have good broadband – so less than 25 Mbps down and 3 up. They don’t distinguish enough between providers that serve a symmetrical Gig versus someone with a 200/20 connection.

Both serve a purpose – but we need to make those distinctions better known. Another factor is that the Geo Partner test server is in Virginia – rather than being closer to Minnesota so already it sort of starts off slow from the blocks. You can listen to the discussion for more details. I will do a deeper dive later. There was an offer on the table from Travis to help get the GEO Partner server onto MICE, a Midwest Internet exchange point, which would bring the testing closer to the source. And there was interest from Glen in looking into getting the server closer.

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