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Speed Testing - The Bedrock of Network Improvement Planning

Affordable high-speed internet access is more important now than ever before. Community broadband networks serve a myriad of critical purposes including:

· Boosting economic development

· Improving quality of place for both residents and visitors

· Increasing tourism revenue

· Providing remote access to education

· Employment and telehealth

· Acting as the backbone of a town’s health and safety infrastructure

To efficiently plan for improved connectivity across our communities, we must first understand the existing infrastructure in place, including accurate network coverage and speed. Such data is essential when undertaking infrastructure improvement initiatives.

Any user can check their home network’s download and upload speeds with a free app, but when it comes to community-wide broadband initiatives, independent third-party speed testing campaigns and benchmarking are the foundation for building informed public support and can be the key factor for obtaining broadband infrastructure grant funding.

An Accurate Assessment

With the staggering number of variables in administering speed-tests, the larger the data set the stronger and more reliable the results become. Single-point testing often obscures the picture as it might reflect temporary conditions that interfere with coverage (e.g. time of day, event bottlenecks such as election coverage streaming, and potential weather interference) or site-specific problems (e.g. broken connections and walls impenetrable to Wi-Fi signals).

Aggregating a range of download and upload speeds available throughout a community will give a better sense of overall network health. Additionally, ongoing speed testing initiatives increase the validity of results as any snapshot in time might be obscured by passing conditions.

Targeted Community-Driven Campaigning

There are many sources of speed testing data available for consumption, some publicly available open-source and some proprietary. Providers release data as a marketing tool, data-collection firms make a business selling the data, and the federal government collects and distributes speed testing data in an effort to improve the availability of information for consumers. All sources of data have different methods of measuring ‘network speed’ as well as different driving forces behind the speed-measuring and data-collection efforts. Due to the complexity of measuring network speeds and the vast number of variables that can influence results, an accurate picture of a region’s digital infrastructure hinges on the aggregation of many data points with clear underlying methodologies, assumptions, and driving forces.

Supplementing existing data sources with Community-driven, comprehensive speed testing is an essential waypoint on the road map to improved speed and coverage. Such campaigns provide constituents a voice to articulate the demand and necessity of improved broadband infrastructure through targeted data collection. The data gives civic planners the necessary information to help assess current infrastructure and identify/prioritize areas lacking adequate connection with more accuracy. In many cases, the results can also act as supporting data to unlock federal and state level funding.

Knowing What’s Possible

With technology evolving so quickly, it can be difficult for even the most interested members of the public to keep up with what broadband providers can offer in terms of speed. The Federal Government can’t keep up either. In Congressional testimony in November 2019, a representative from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society noted the disconnect between the current Federal definition of ‘advanced download speeds’ and what current technology is capable of: “The cable industry announced at the beginning of 2019 that ‘10G’ field trials will begin in 2020; 10G is its name for a service that will deliver a download speed of 10 Gbps, or 400 times as fast as what the Commission now considers ‘advanced’ download speeds.”

Benchmarking results against evolving industry capabilities allows communities to render informed decisions based on costs, present-day benefits, and long-term network scalability. It also allows for longer-term planning, which can extend the useful life of network infrastructures as needs and priorities change alongside technology. Futureproofing is a process, not a switch to be flipped.

Matching Needs and Speeds

In summary, recognizing and addressing inadequate network coverage and speed across our communities is more important than ever and network speed testing is an integral threshold task to identify and articulate current infrastructure in these unserved and underserved communities. This becomes invaluable supporting data for Community planning efforts, informed decision making, illustrating demand, and building public support.

Properly administered speed testing can help local government and providers ensure that network capabilities will meet the community’s immediate and future broadband needs.

-Adam Quinlan Manager of Broadband Consulting at Tilson Technology

About Tilson

Tilson is on a mission to build America’s information infrastructure. Recognized ten consecutive years on the Inc. 5000, Tilson provides network deployment and information system professional services to telecom, construction, utility and government clients. As a leading network design, build, and operating firm, Tilson builds high-performing technology project teams who take on the largest and most impactful information infrastructure projects in the country.

Tilson’s experienced broadband consulting team provides multidisciplinary industry knowledge and a deep understanding of networks. We offer comprehensive services for the full broadband implementation lifecycle and provide best-in-class consulting from start to finish, tailored to meet and exceed project goals. Contact us to learn more.

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