UPDATE: In seven months leading up to the day before this story rain in the Monitor, the state has seen 915 speed tests. On the day it ran, they got 270 more, and they’re still coming in as I write this.
New Hampshire is getting ready to take the next step in bringing broadband to homes thanks to federal funding and you – yes, you, dear reader! – can help out.
The issue is Federal Communication Commission maps detailing upload and download speeds available from various private Internet Service Providers. The maps will be used to determine what new or improved connections need to be made to homes and businesses
According to the FCC maps, New Hampshire is broadband heaven and doesn’t need much of an upgrade. They say New Hampshire has 517,584 broadband service locations, about one for every three people, and a full 93 percent of them can get service at least 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload, more than enough for most purposes. Just 5% of sites are said to be underserved with speeds less than 25 upload/3 download, which would have been awesome in dial-up modem days but doesn’t work in the streaming world.
If you have any experience with internet service around the state, those claims will make you scoff. There’s a reason for that.
“The FCC maps are 100% ISP data,” said Matt Conserva, program manager for the Office of Broadband Initiatives in the state department of Business and Economic Affairs. “They definitely provided the ability for ISPs to exaggerate their speeds and availability … For example there might be fixed wireless – a tower backed by fiber – and it can beam 100 (Megabits per second download) over 20 (upload) to this address. You may be able to do that in a vacuum, but can you really do it?”
That’s a big question as the state prepares to spend almost $200 million for direct-to-customer connections through a program called BEAD ( Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment). They want to answer the question of where real-life broadband is falling short through that most internet-ish of methods: crowd sourcing.
“We do have our own maps … but we need more crowd testing, to try to get more accurate on speeds and actual availability,” Conserva said.
So here’s what you can do. Go to nhbroadbandspeedtest.unh.edu, hosted by UNH, and run the speed test on your service. It takes about two minutes.
I just did it for my Comcast home service and got 318 Mb/s download and 21 upload, with a latency of 11 milliseconds. Pretty darn good. No federally funded upgrades for me.
I’ve been writing about government efforts to increase internet access here since the days of New Hampshire Net, a state-sponsored test back in the 1990s. I was part of that effort and remember how thrilling it was to connect with a library catalog in Czechoslovakia – woo-hoo! A brave new world is coming, I said.
How naive we were.
Over the years a bunch of state and federal programs have helped build high-speed backbones and “middle mile” connections, the internet equivalent of the turnpike system and large state road system. But the last bit – the streets that lead into your neighborhood and driveway – were left to private enterprise. The “invisible hand” stinks at helping people if there isn’t enough profit and there definitely isn’t enough profit stringing cables to homes in rural areas, so big chunks of New Hampshire’s geography are still internet backward.
BEAD is one of a bunch of federal programs put forward by Congress and the Biden administration to try and fix that, with $186.5 million allocated for New Hampshire’s use. The money will be paid to private ISPs to bring service to areas that get identified as underserved, hence the importance of updating the FCC maps.
The Department of Business and Economic Affairs is looking for public comment until Dec. 13 on its draft plan to upgrade all addresses in the state that lack broadband speeds. You can see the draft plan at www.nheconomy.com/office-of-broadband-initiatives/iija. All comments must be submitted by noon on Dec. 13 to firstname.lastname@example.org.