Characterizing Internet Access and Quality Inequities in California M-Lab Measurements

Published in ACM COMPASS, 2022

It is well documented that, in the United States (U.S.), the availability of Internet access is related to several demographic attributes. Data collected through end user network diagnostic tools, such as the one provided by the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) Speed Test, allows the extension of prior work by exploring the relationship between the quality, as opposed to only the availability, of Internet access and demographic attributes of users of the platform. In this study, we use network measurements collected from the users of Speed Test by M-Lab and demographic data to characterize the relationship between the quality-of-service (QoS) metric download speed, and various critical demographic attributes, such as income, education level, and poverty. For brevity, we limit our focus to the state of California. For users of the M-Lab Speed Test, our study has the following key takeaways: (1) geographic type (urban/rural) and income level in an area have the most significant relationship to download speed; (2) average download speed in rural areas is 2.5 times lower than urban areas; (3) the COVID-19 pandemic had a varied impact on download speeds for different demographic attributes; and (4) the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s) broadband speed data significantly overrepresents the download speed for rural and low-income communities compared to what is recorded through Speed Test.

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