DIY or Go Without Broadband: Part Two


In Part One, I described how the Gold County Broadband Consortia started a neighborhood broadband validation project with paper surveys at the County Fair. Other Broadband Consortia have used similar methods to collect ground truth coverage and speeds. Other’s have automated the process putting the survey forms online. One example HERE.

This online form is the electronic version of CPUC paper form which was used to initially collect data for the public feedback layer for the California Interactive Broadband Map.  These forms were compiled and entered into Excel Spreadsheets and sent to the CPUC for the CA Broadband map.

The CPUC has modified the process and developed apps for collecting Cell phone connection speeds HERE and a desktop/laptop/tablet app to collect wireline and WiFI connection speeds HERE. These apps can be downloaded and used to report speeds directly to the CPUC.  The downside is there is no local record, the data goes directly to the CPUC.

I recommend neighborhood organizations develop an online form that reports the results to a Google Drive Spreadsheet for local validation and clean up so they can plot the data. After validation, they can send a copy to the CPUC. Plotting the data can provide some valuable insights into the local broadband infrastructure and user demand.

A third option is to continuously record the speed of the internet connection over days or a week using a recording device.  Speeds vary over the time of day and the number of users on the network. The CPUC is developing a recorder that can work up to Gigabit speeds.  I built one based on a project in Make Magazine.

It was the article introduction that caught my attention:

If there’s one thing that’s the same about everyone’s broadband connection, it’s that it’s slow. Usually slower than it was advertised to be when you got it. But slow isn’t as irritating as sporadic, when you get constant drops and outages in your internet connection, it can drive you to frustration.

It drove one man in Washington D.C. to monitor his broadband connection with a Raspberry Pi, and automatically tweet Comcast when his connection drops to a fraction of advertised speed.

This is actually something I’ve been doing myself for a couple of years, also using a Raspberry Pi stuffed in a corner of my network closet. Well, not the bit where I tweet my broadband provider. Instead my script is a bit more direct: It automatically submits a trouble ticket into their support queue.

My immediate thought was, “I need one of these” even though we have excellent WAVE broadband access at our house. I have been a Raspberry Pi experimenter for several years and was familiar with this inexpensive computer.  I was more interested in collecting the data for analysis than I was for reporting outages directly to the provider, so I tailored the output program to just create a data file on the Raspberry Pi. A file I could download on to my Mac for examination with a Python data analysis program.  We have 100 Mbps broadband at our current residence and the recorder provided insight into some uploading problems that developed.  See the attached chart. Note the red line, near zero upload speeds.

Wave Tri Display

More on my adapted Make Magazine recording box in Part 3.  I wanted to build a simple plug and play device that friends and neighbors could use to validate their connection speeds and network reliability.  Just plug in a Cat 5 cable in a router port and plug in the power wall wart and the recorder would take a sample every 30 minutes 24/7 until it was unplugged.


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