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Verified Broadband Speeds Needed to Understand Impact of Coronavirus on Internet Networks, Panelists Say

Elijah Labby

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May 15, 2020 — Guests on Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online emphasized the need for increased broadband mapping efforts, and for including verified speeds, and prices, in a national dataset.

The live event was part of a weekly series on the impact of broadband the coronavirus, and which takes place every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Wednesday’s event featured X-Lab Founder Sascha Meinrath, Measurement Lab Director Lai Yi Ohlsen and Ookla Chief Strategy Officer Chip Strange, and was hosted by Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark.

While speaking about the event's designated topic, "Measuring and Monitoring the Health of Broadband Networks During the Coronavirus," participants expressed concern about the current state of broadband networks as well as enthusiasm about the potential benefits that broadband could provide to underserved communities.

Participants also described the relative strengths and weaknesses of different methods of measuring internet speeds.

“[All methods] provide incredibly useful facets of an incredibly complicated network," Meinrath said, "and as such, the more data we can get on our hands, the better for everyone involved.”

Meinrath went on to say that there was not merely one methodology that would provide the most applicable dataset, but rather a combination of methods.

“Only a fool would say, ‘This one piece of data is all I need to make an informed decision,’” he said. “If Jeff Bezos joins us on this call, on average, we're all billionaires.”

When asked what broadband providers are not measuring but should in order to assess broadband coverage more accurately, Ohlsen said that openness was vital.

“What I do think is useful about the approach that M-Lab takes is to be open in all of the different methodologies that we use so that all researchers can see the calculation that's getting them the number that we're all referencing,” she said. “If there are other measurements that folks think would be useful to have in a public dataset, we are happy to have open-source experiments.”

When Clark asked Strange his thoughts on data that shows large gaps in broadband coverage across the country, Strange agreed that more data was needed but said that the problem was not unexpected.

“It does not surprise me at all that there are pockets of — and in some cases, more than pockets of — our country that do not have what I would call high broadband speeds,” he said.

In their closing remarks, panelists emphasized the importance of accurate broadband mapping and detailed solutions.

“We need much more in-depth, systematic, data collection, research, verification of information, et cetera, and I think the best people to do that are the scientific research community,” said Meinrath.

“And that would be in collaboration with everyone involved ... but the idea that scientists should run the science behind investigating, identifying, documenting broadband speeds in the United States is weirdly radical, and shouldn't be," he said.

Follow upcoming Live Online events, see Broadband Breakfast Live Online Will Stream Every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET on ‘Broadband and the Coronavirus’

Guests for this event:

  • Sascha Meinrath, Founder, X-Lab, and Palmer Chair in Telecommunications at Penn State University
  • Lai Yi Ohlsen, Project Director, Measurement Lab, a collection of open internet performance data
  • Chip Strange, Chief Strategy Officer, Ookla, which is responsible for the Speedtest platform
  • Drew Clark (Moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist and moderator resources:

Follow upcoming Live Online events, see Broadband Breakfast Live Online Will Stream Every Wednesday at 12 Noon ET on ‘Broadband and the Coronavirus’

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