As Regional Download Speeds Climb, Upload Plummets For Some: 2023 Report

Today Pacific Broadband and Digital Equity (PBDE) released updates to its regional analysis of internet speed data supplied by the Ookla Open Data Initiative. Ookla’s data consists of hundreds of millions of speed tests run by users around the world. The tests are segregated by connection technology; while mobile and 5G tests are available, we have focused on fixed internet connections in our analysis so far.

To generate our analysis, PBDE uses data processing code in Python to geofence specific speed test values from the global data archive for specific regional locations such as the Hawaiian Islands; the areas of Guam, CNMI, American Samoa, USVI, and Puerto Rico; Federated States of Micronesia and Palau; and finally–for comparison–locations in the continental United States and European Islands.

Our most recent processing run added the final two quarters of 2023 (3Q2023 and 4Q2023) to our overall datasets for the locations. We have also added a new charting tool in Python that would be more easily adaptable to custom projects. Please see our Resources Page for full interactive charts.

Here are some immediate observations from the data for the second half of 2023:

  • Download speeds in all locations rose for the year of 2023, but in some places more than others. In the Pacific region, while Guam continued its slow improvement and American Samoa recouped some average speed losses from earlier in the year, CNMI lost average speed in the fourth quarter to move to a virtual tie with Guam. All three of American Samoa, Guam, and CNMI have generally similar average download speeds between 55 and 65 Megabits per second (Mbps). Unfortunately, when compared with global averages, which rose about 20 percent, each of the territories lost ground in 2023. Hawai‘i remains the regional bellweather (despite having lost ground to the global average as well) with an average download speed of about 228 Mbps.
  • While global upload speeds are rising more rapidly to a global average of about 38 Mbps, performance in the region was far more mixed. On one hand, the State of Hawaii has mirrored the global trend, rising smoothly from 51.6 to 76.2 Mbps average upload speeds. Elsewhere in the Pacific, Guam has gained ground (from a fairly difficult starting point) from 8 Mbps to 14 Mbps upload speeds, while American Samoa, CNMI, and Palau have all shown sudden, significant spikes downward in upload speeds in the fourth quarter to all land below the global average. The depth of these drops are significant enough to make us wonder if there is a testing methodology change, but the correspondence of the timing of the drops might indicate that there is something else going on.
  • Finally, latency testing is somewhat more complicated, we note that Hawaii has generally remained steady (along with USVI and Puerto Rico) at well under 50 Milliseconds. While the data for United States Pacific territories and insular areas are generally more noisy, we observe that American Samoa appears to have experienced a massive climb in latency over the year, from an average of about 71 ms at the beginning of 2023 to 165 ms during the last quarter of the year. It seems that it would be worth investigating whether this rise is the product of a testing update or some real-world change to the network connecting American Samoa to the global backbone.

As we have mentioned previously, the challenge of internet speed testing is significant. All of our data listed will be well-served to be reinforced with real-world on-the-ground testing for each location. As Ookla itself points out, a growing challenge with testing is the relative age and speed of Wi-Fi routers, since they serve as a bottleneck for internet consumed by the vast majority of fixed network subscribers. We see the Wi-Fi bottleneck as potentially a relatively more powerful issue in the region, with the availability of consumer electronic equipment constrained by supply chain issues and relative economics.

Still, it might equally be pointed out that speed on Wi-Fi is the real performance most residents and businesses experience; from their standpoint, Wi-Fi generally is the internet. Governments and Internet Service Providers alike should take care to make sure that attention is paid to providing updated, secure equipment where possible. We suspect that these improvements could take the form of very high-value, low-cost initiatives in many locations.

As for our data, the general consistency and trends in the statistics gives us particular confidence in the data’s power to identify relative conditions. Regardless of the absolute empirical numbers, we are confident in the primary message behind the data: that a digital divide exists; that–for America–it is most severe in territories and insular areas of the Pacific region; and that the divide continued to grow in 2023. We’ll continue to monitor over the coming months and years in hopes that this trend will be reversed.