Internet Speedtest results going public

Consumers and scholars will be able to download statistics on users' average bandwidth for free

The operator of Speedtest.net is set on Tuesday to start providing statistics from its Web-based Internet measurement tool for free to consumers.

Speedtest.net was launched in 2007 by Ookla, a company that now also operates Pingtest.net, a site for measuring connection quality. Users conduct more than 1 million tests per day using Ookla's tools, which are also offered as rebranded services by ISPs (Internet service providers).

Up until now, Ookla has been compiling the results of those individual tests -- about 1.5 billion so far -- but only making them available to outsiders through individual agreements. That is set to change on Tuesday, when consumers will be able to view average speed numbers for the whole world, cities and geographic regions on a new Net Index Web site. At the same time, the full information from the tests -- minus details such as who exactly was testing their home broadband -- will be freely available to academic institutions.

Ookla hopes its statistics will inform better decision-making by Internet service providers, government agencies and consumers. Among other things, the numbers can show what areas have better or worse Internet service so carriers and regulators can direct resources toward them, said Mike Apgar, co-founder and CEO of Ookla.

The Speedtest tool is available both at Speedtest.net and as a feature offered by many ISPs. It measures the total downstream and upstream capacity available on an Internet connection, not just the amount of bandwidth that the browser visiting the site can use, Apgar said. Speedtest.net also gauges latency, or the amount of time it takes for a packet to travel from the user's system to the Internet and back. Pingtest takes more detailed measures of connection quality.

The sites are designed to focus their tests on the "last mile" of the network to a user's location. Ookla operates more than 600 servers around the world so it can intercept users' packets close to their origins. Most Internet users are within 300 miles of a Speedtest.net server, Apgar said.

The informational sites being launched on Tuesday will offer indexes for download speed, upload speed and quality, which includes packet loss, response times and jitter. Ookla will provide an average of Speedtest results from the previous 30 days.

On Tuesday or soon after, Ookla will also start surveying users about how much they pay for broadband and how much bandwidth they were promised by their ISPs. The results of those questions will go into building a Value Index, which will show how much people around the world pay per megabit-per-second for Internet access. In addition, by collecting postal codes from Speedtest users, Ookla hopes to map broadband service to local economic conditions, Apgar said.

The Speedtest data could give the U.S. government far more information to work with in setting priorities for its National Broadband Plan, said Jim Davis of Tier 1 Research, a division of research company The 451 Group. Under the National Broadband Plan, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission intends to provide funding to bring broadband to underserved parts of the U.S. So far, assessments have been based mostly on data from service providers.

"The FCC might get a clearer picture of where it is that they need to guide this spending," Davis said.

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