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The Souped-Up Speed Test Mapping Canada's Digital Divide

This isn't your average speed test.
Screengrab: Youtube

A new, souped-up internet speed test is attempting to crowdsource a comprehensive map of Canada's internet to better illustrate the digital divide between the haves and the have-nots when it comes to the internet in Canada.

The test, which launched today, comes from the Canadian Internet Registry Authority (CIRA), the organization that manages the .ca top level domain. While other internet speed tests measure your upload and download speeds, as well as the time it takes to get a response from a server, the CIRA test also takes into account over 100 other factors—including the complex route your data takes to get to its destination, as well as which countries it travels through.

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The results are mapped using a postal code, so you can compare your internet speeds to your neighbour's and take a guess as to whether their Netflix connection is really as bad as yours is.

CIRA intendeds is to create a highly detailed map of Canada's internet performance that can be used by researchers and policy makers to get a handle on the real state of internet access in Canada and how it intersects with geography, and the demographics of the areas most underserved.

"This test will help Canadian families ensure they are getting the speed they expect, help IT managers ensure their connections are properly configured, and help policy makers and researchers understand new emerging digital divides," Jacques Latour, CIRA chief technology officer, said in a statement.

The dire state of Canada's rural internet, where many citizens still connect to the internet over dial-up, has been well-documented in the past.

The test works by connecting your computer to test servers that CIRA has set up at key internet exchange points—hubs of internet activity where everything from internet service providers to social networks link up to share traffic—running M-Lab software. Anyone can use M-Lab's software, which is based on open source tools, to measure the quality of an internet connection, and post the results to a publicly-available repository.

The platform runs open source traffic measurement tools and then posts the results in a publicly-available repository like the CIRA map.

If enough people use it, the map could yield some interesting—and very public—insights into how Canada's internet is organized, and, as is pretty likely, how poor the connections in some areas really are.