About Merit Network

Merit Network, Inc. is a nonprofit organization governed by Michigan’s public universities. Merit owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance. Since its formation, Merit Network has remained on the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking, cybersecurity and community services to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations.

About the Quello Center at Michigan State University

The Quello Center is a multi-disciplinary research center affiliated with the Department of Media and Information at Michigan State University. The Center seeks to stimulate and inform debate on the economic and social implications of media, communication, and information innovations in the digital age.

About Measurement Lab (M-Lab)

The Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform is run by the scientific community. We make all test results publicly available via the MeasurementLab.net website to help promote Internet research. M-Lab's Network Diagnostic Tool collects a number of measures of different facets of your Internet connection. The information published includes each device’s IP address, but does not include personal identifying information about you as an Internet user.

About the Michigan Moonshot

The Michigan Moonshot is a collective call to action which aims to bridge the digital divide in Michigan. Stakeholders include Merit Network, the nation’s longest-running research and education network, the Quello Center at Michigan State University and M-Lab, the largest open Internet measurement platform in the world. This initiative aims to expand broadband access to all citizens through policy and funding, data and mapping, education and resources. Learn more about the Michigan Moonshot at Merit.edu/moonshot.

Data Privacy FAQ

Who Is Involved

There are several groups of individuals who are involved with this initiative: Merit Network, Inc. is a non-profit organization performing data collection and analysis around broadband data speeds, availability, and impact on our communities. The sponsor is the group or organization which has contracted with Merit to perform this work, and will receive the aggregate reports and output from the analysis once completed. Sponsors can be municipal or other civic organizations which want to understand how broadband data exists and impacts the communities they serve. Participants are residents of these communities, and provide the data which is used for analysis.

Data We Collect

We collect data from several public and non-public sources in order to perform this service. Data that is not considered public data comes directly from participants, and includes both individualized survey responses and an associated broadband speed measurement test. Survey responses can include local addresses and property parcel IDs along with participant-generated responses to how a household manages and uses any Internet service. Data is not specifically tied to an individual, but to a home, property, or residence within a geographical area.

What We Do With Data

Public and participant-provided data is aggregated and analyzed to report on broadband availability within census block units of a geographic area. Graphs, maps, and tabular reports are generated to display census-level blocks corresponding with adoption of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), average broadband usage, and other aggregated data resulting from participant-driven surveys.

Broadband speed testing data is gathered via the Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform, and is run by the scientific community. All test results are publicly available via the MeasurementLab.net website to help promote Internet research, as M-Lab's Network Diagnostic Tool collects a number of measures of different facets of Internet connections. The information published includes each device’s IP address, but does not include personal identifying information about specific Internet users.

What Others Can Do With Data

Only certain data provided by Merit to sponsors may be shared with any other parties. Summary reports, broadband speed test data, and associated geographic maps may be used in reports, presentations, and other forms of communication to showcase the current state of broadband access in a sponsor's community. In all other cases, data may not be sold, transferred, or shared with any other third parties without the express written consent of Merit Network, Inc. Data may not be used by non-public Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to segregate areas of investment or divestment within communities. Sponsors must treat any data with the same level of care as their own internal, confidential data.

Data Storage

Collected data is stored in a third-party platform (Google BigQuery) for research and analysis, with aggregate reporting data compiled and stored on secured systems at Merit Network. Data is kept encrypted at rest and in transit where technically possible and kept within the United States.

Aggregate and report data is provided to the sponsor as a deliverable of this service. Data may be retained indefinitely by Merit Network in order to assist with longitudinal studies with the express purpose of assisting municipalities, governments, and other organizations with increasing broadband deployment and usage within the United States.

Data Confidentiality

All data collected and created is treated with the same level of data classification as Merit's own internal data, and subsequently with the same level of protections and security controls as well. Data may only be viewed by individuals performing work on the data, and access is restricted to the minimum amount of access necessary to perform work. Oversight of privacy and security controls surrounding this data is performed by the Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at Merit Network.

How will my data be shared?

The Measurement Lab (M-Lab) platform is run by the scientific community. M-Lab makes all test results publicly available via the MeasurementLab.net website to help promote Internet research. M-Lab's Network Diagnostic Tool collects a number of measures of different facets of your Internet connection. The information published includes each device’s IP address, but does not include personal identifying information about you as an Internet user.

How will my information be secured?

Merit Network will be responsible for data management related to this project. Data will be maintained and archived in a secure and password-protected repository. All data will be made available in a format that protects anonymity and confidentiality.

How does the Broadband Speed Test work?

The Michigan Broadband Speed Test utilizes the open source test and servers provided by Measurement Lab (M-Lab), a consortium of public interest groups, academic institutions and industry partners, providing an open platform dedicated to Internet performance measurement. When you start a test, your browser opens a connection to the closest M-Lab server. It then exchanges with the server a synthetic stream of data, generated solely for the purpose of measuring your connection at that time. During the test, the server collects around 100 low-level metrics. When the test is completed, the user is shown three of the most accessible measurements: download speed, upload speed, and minimum round trip time.

Why does this test show different results than other tests like speedtest.net?

Different network measurement tests sometimes show variance in results due to factors such as the methodology of the test. Both speedtest.net and M-Lab's tests are valid measurements but have different methods and instrumentation which account for the difference in measurements.

In both M-Lab's NDT test and Ookla's speedtest.net test, there is a client and a server component. The client is the test running in your browser in both cases. Ookla's servers are always within the ISP's last mile network, while M-Lab's servers are always in transit data centers, outside of any ISP last mile network.

The speedtest.net test is an on-net measurement of your connection's performance to the edge of your ISP's network, and M-Lab's test is an off-net measurement of your connection's performance through your ISP's network to one of M-Lab's servers in a Seattle Internet exchangepoint. M-Lab's methodology is based on the rationale that consumers request content from the Internet which could be anywhere in the world, most of which is outside their ISP's network. By tracing the performance over the full path of your broadband connection to the global Internet, M-Lab measures the performance of your connection across interconnected networks, which is closer to the way you access the Internet everyday.

Why do internet performance tests provide different results?

Three of the main reasons for different results among tests are listed below:

  1. Differences in the location of testing servers

    Every performance test has two parts:

    • Client: This is the software that runs on the user’s machine and shows the user their speed results.
    • Server: This is the computer on the Internet to which the client connects to complete the test.

    A test generates data between the client and the server, and measures performance between these two points. The location of these two points is important in terms of understanding the results of a given test. If the server is located within your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) own network (also known as the “last mile”), this is referred to as an “on-net” measurement. This approach lets you know how your Internet connection is performing intra-network within your ISP, but it does not necessarily reflect the full experience of using the Internet, which almost always involves using inter- network connections (connections between networks) to access content and services that are hosted somewhere outside of your ISP. Results from on-net testing are often higher than those achieved by using other methods, since the “distance” traveled is generally shorter, and the network is entirely controlled by one provider (your ISP). “Off-net” measurements occur between your computer and a server located outside of your ISP’s network. This means that traffic crosses inter-network borders and often travels longer distances. Off-net testing frequently produces results that are lower than those produced from on-net testing. M-Lab’s measurements are always conducted off-net. This way, M-Lab is able to measure performance from testers’ computers to locations where popular Internet content is often hosted. By having inter-network connections included in the test, test users get a real sense of the performance they could expect when using the Internet.

  2. Differences in testing methods

    Different Internet performance tests measure different things in different ways. M-Lab’s NDT test tries to transfer as much data as it can in ten seconds (both up and down), using a single connection to an M-Lab server. Other popular tests try to transfer as much data as possible at once across multiple connections to their server. Neither method is “right”or “wrong,” but using a single stream is more likely to help diagnose problems in the network than multiple streams would. All NDT data collected by M-Lab are publicly available in both visualized (graphic), queryable, and raw (unanalyzed) forms. Learn more about M-Lab’s NDT methodology.

  3. Changing network conditions and distinct test paths

    The Internet is always changing, and test results reflect that. A test conducted five minutes ago may show very different results from a test conducted twenty minutes ago. This can be caused by the test traffic being routed differently. For example, one test might travel over a path with a broken router, while another may not. A test run today may be directed to a test server located farther away than a test run yesterday. Additionally, IPv4 and IPv6 routes may take different physical paths. Some IPv6 routes may be tunneled through IPv4, from the client, or at any point after the client depending on local network management. In short, running one test will give you a sense of network conditions at that moment, across the best network path available at that time, to the specific server coordinating the test. But because Internet routing and infrastructure change dynamically, testing regularly and looking at the data over time are much more reliable ways to gauge representative performance.

What data does this test collect, and how will it be used?

Before you take the test, you will be asked for your location and some basic information about your connection. This data will be stored in a private database, combined with other results, and published to the map in anonymized form.

This test does not collect information about your other Internet traffic, such as your emails, web searches, etc., or any personally identifiable information. The data it sends across your network is synthetic - meaning it does not come from your device or other applications you are operating - and will be used for measurement only. The speed test data is submitted to M-Lab in aggregated form to assure that the anonymity of users is protected.

What do these results mean?

Your speed test results show the actual upload and download speeds you are experiencing at the time you take the test. Results can vary due to the device you are using, your operating system, the browser you use, the time of day you take the test, whether you are using WiFi or a wired connection, the number of devices connected to the same signal at once, and many other factors. You can take this test as many times as you like, from as many devices and locations as you like. If the speeds you are receiving do not match up to your expectations, you have a number of options.