Mobile Data Speeds In Pacific Territories Are Being Left Behind

Today, Pacific Broadband and Digital Equity released analysis of mobile data speedtests from a period of about the last 5 years. As might be expected, internet access from smartphones is improving almost universally. But, during the period of our analysis, that improvement has been tepid and incremental in the territories of Guam, CNMI, and American Samoa–vastly different from the torrent of improved speeds experienced by users in Hawai‘i and other locations sampled from the American mainland.

While our analysis of internet speedtest data initially focused on fixed broadband connection reports, we have now processed all available mobile data as well. This shift aligns with the focus of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and its progression from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program into its Digital Equity Act programming.

Our collaborations with institutions such as the American Samoa Community College have been instrumental in highlighting the significance of mobile data, especially in the context of remote learning. Many students across K-12 and higher education, as well as adult learners, rely on mobile networks for internet access, often tethering laptops to mobile phones or using MiFi devices. This reliance underscores the importance of robust mobile data networks, not just as a luxury, but as a vital tool for educational access and success. While we do not have direct statistics, we do have strong anecdotal evidence that this is especially true in our island territories.

While we did anticipate a gap in performance for the territories, the findings from our analysis surpassed our expectations in terms of the speed with which the territories are falling behind on mobile data. This disparity is not just a matter of slower progress; what was once (in 2019) a quantitative gap in user experiences now appears to be large enough to be a qualitative one:

Over the last five years, states such as Missouri and Hawaii, along with cities like Anchorage, have shown significant improvements in mobile internet speeds. For instance, Missouri’s download speed increased from an average of around 34.88 Mbps in 2019Q1 to approximately 180.47 Mbps by 2023Q4, demonstrating a more than fivefold increase. Similarly, Hawaii’s average download speed rose from about 28.52 Mbps in 2019Q1 to approximately 146.85 Mbps in 2023Q4. In contrast, the Pacific territories have seen relatively modest improvements. For example, Guam’s average download speed increased from approximately 18.37 Mbps in 2019Q1 to about 41.98 Mbps in 2023Q4, while the CNMI saw an increase from around 18.83 Mbps to approximately 32.12 Mbps in the same period.

We encourage the governments and institutions of these island areas to aggressively pursue Digital Equity projects with these factors in mind. We understand that there are planned new network rollouts in many of these locations that could quickly change the story on this significant digital gap; but, for now, these appear to be just plans. There can be no question that end users in Guam, CNMI, American Samoa, and other Insular Areas will be deeply limited by their digital access to mobile networks in the near future, and that even temporary projects that could improve their access options could provide significant relief.

As always, the data from our project are available on our Resources Page; additional charts appear on their own separate page. As a reminder, the data we processed are originally published by the Ookla Open Data initiative. Finally, the data and code from our analysis are available open source online at Github.