By Kelly Hill
The Federal Communications Commission is asking consumers to download and use its speed-test application, as it attempts to more precisely determine where broadband networks — including mobile broadband — do and don’t provide coverage across the country, and what the user experience is like in different areas.
The FCC says that the network coverage and performance data that it gathers from the speed tests conducted on its app will “help to inform the FCC’s efforts to collect more accurate and granular broadband deployment data” and “will also be used in the future for consumers to challenge provider-submitted maps when the Broadband Data Collection systems become available.”
The FCC began including mobile data in its Measuring Broadband America (MBA) programme in 2012. Its speed-test app is available as a free download in both Android and iOS versions.
The app tests and collects data on a user’s upload and download speeds, latency, jitter and packet loss, as well as the mobile device manufacturer and model they’re using and which version of its operating system the device is operating. It also collects data on the signal strength of the connection. The data is collected anonymously and is not personally identifiable, the FCC says, adding that it has “taken significant measures to ensure the privacy and confidentiality of volunteers for this program” and that it uses privacy measures developed and reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and academic researchers to ensure that data such as location and time stamps that could potentially identify specific smartphones is anonymized.
In addition to user-initiated tests, the Android version of the app also runs tests periodically in the background. That functionality can be disabled, although the FCC asks that users not do that, so that it has more test data. The default configuration is for the app to consume no more than 100 MB of data per month in automated testing.
“To close the gap between digital haves and have nots, we are working to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Expanding the base of consumers who use the FCC Speed Test app will enable us to provide improved coverage information to the public and add to the measurement tools we’re developing to show where broadband is truly available throughout the United States.”
In related news, the FCC recently released a new, searchable map of US home broadband availability (pictured at top), based on the traditional Form 477 data and census-block-level assessments of availability of service from wireline, fixed wireless and satellite providers, published twice each year. The agency is in the midst of a multi-year effort to update its data collection strategy in order to improve the accuracy of its information about whether households are served or unserved by fixed-line and mobile networks.