New Ookla Speedtest Data Shows Deep Disparities on Tribal Lands

The web service company Ookla, owners of Speedtest.net, has published a detailed report on internet speeds across tribal lands in North America. (Disclosure: ExtremeTech and Ookla are both owned by Ziff Davis). Mobile and wireline performance are both discussed, with data given for the fastest and slowest reservation/reserves in the report. The full dataset is also available to download to anyone who wishes to analyze it.

Some reserves and reservations have excellent mobile network performance, particularly in the United States.

Fastest-Mobile-Speeds-1

Graph by Ookla

The Ookla report notes that all 10 of the reservations and reserves in this list are home to large commercial enterprises with shopping centers, casinos, resorts, and in one case, a data center. Six of these are in California, and three are located “in or adjacent to large cities.” As for the slowest areas, those are shown below:

Slowest-MobileSpeeds

Graph by Ookla

The slowest speeds are often on the largest reservations in the United States (all of the 10 slowest reservations are in the United States). In some cases, the gaps between these download speeds and the average of the rest of the state are considerable; the Navajo nation’s average download speed is 80 percent lower than the rest of Arizona. Santa Clara Pueblo’s results is 68.5 percent slower than the state of New Mexico. White Earth Reservation is 71.1 percent slower than the State of Minnesota.

There’s a tier of users potentially stuck in an even worse place than the bottom of the mobile segment. I checked the CSV file provided by Ookla to compare the mobile download speeds available at the slowest fixed broadband locations. There’s no data in the spreadsheet. In other words, there’s wired and wireless data logged for the fastest and the slowest mobile reservations — but no wireless data at all for the slowest fixed reservations.

Slowest-Fixed-Broadband-Speeds-1

We reached out to Ookla about why the lack of data in these areas. The company confirmed that it lacked this information but cautioned that it should not automatically be interpreted as evidence of a lack of broadband in these areas. An absence of evidence, as the saying goes, is not evidence of absence.

This is a fair point and should not be ignored. But the likelihood that this information is simply missing can also be weighed against what we know about broadband coverage in rural America. The Ookla blog post notes that the areas with the slowest internet performance are often the most rural and isolated — and ensuring that rural Americans actually have access to broadband is something the FCC has done a very poor job of. Up until now, ISPs have been allowed to certify entire census tracts as “covered” if they provided coverage to a single address within the block. A recent test of a more accurate measuring method found that 38 percent of the rural locations that were supposedly covered by existing broadband deployments actually lacked service. I’ve personally lived in places in New York State that still lack cell service today. In its report on rural broadband coverage, the Broadband Mapping Initiative called for the adoption of new measuring metrics and the need for a corresponding survey of the United States. Hopefully this will be untaken. There are clearly areas where both wired and wireline service are stuck more than a decade behind the rest of the country, if wireless is available at all.

Data like this raises questions about the state of America’s rural infrastructure. 4-6Mbit is slow enough to slow down video streaming and make site surfing slow. That’s a drag on anyone attempting to attend online classes or watch supplementary videos (3Blue1Brown was my fiancée’s regular companion for months in college). Most job applications are now online-only. Ookla writes: “In Washington, the Makah Reservation and the Quinault Reservation are 95.1% and 94.5% slower, respectively, than the state average. Annette Island Reserve is 93.6% slower than the state of Alaska.”

Rural broadband connectivity is a problem in America, period, with an estimated 31 percent of rural Americans lacking broadband access at home. The situation on rurally located and smaller reservations looks to be significantly worse than that.

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