FCC Rolls Out Mobile Broadband Speed App Test

The FCC will roll out a broadband speed test app for Android phones beginning this week, the commission said Nov. 14 at the first public meeting under new chairman Tom Wheeler.

A speed test app for iPhones is also coming, said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Former acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said she would be on the lookout for that app.

"If we are going to be making fact-based decisions, we need facts," said Wheeler, "and you are enlisting the American people for those facts." Saying he was borrowing from his venture capital background, Wheeler called it a public beta release and said the FCC would be seeking feedback and constantly improving the app.

The FCC has had a fixed braodband speed test for several years, with the cooperation of major ISPs. CTIA: The Wireless Association and its member have been cooperating with the creation of the mobile app, Wheeler said, thanking them for their help.

"This will help shine a light on actual speeds," said commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who added that mining the 400,000 consumer complaints the FCC gets a year would also be another way to tap into the collective wisdom of the public.

Commissioner Ajit Pai said he was pleased that the FCC had worked with privacy experts to insure that the app anonymized the data and did not collect personal info. He said he expected the app would demonstrate the strength of the the wireless industry, but said to continue that, more mobile spectrum needed to be freed up.

Wheeler also said privacy was a key element, saying he was "particularly pleased" that the FCC team had kept the issue "front and center."

Commissioner O'Rielly said that on the fixed side broadband providers were overdelivering, rather than underdelivering, on speeds. O'Rielly pointed to the cost of the speed tests — some $500,000 — and suggested maybe the FCC could hold a contest for some smart folks on the outside to come up with an app.

Wheeler pointed to Google's recent $1 billion purchase of a crowdsourcing app and said the FCC's non-stock-optioned innovators who had produced their crowdsourcing app.

"Wireless carriers have been working for over a year with the FCC to expand the Measuring Broadband America program from fixed to mobile broadband services, said CTIA VP of regulatory affairs Scott Bergmann in a statement. "Measuring broadband speeds in a mobile environment is a complex task with a myriad of factors that affect wireless broadband performance, many of which are outside the wireless providers' control. Given these complexities, we look forward to continuing our collaboration with FCC staff on the interpretation of collected information as part of this initiative as well as the best way to present such information so consumers, businesses, and policymakers are provided with accurate and useful information about mobile broadband services across the United States."

The FCC signaled it would have national numbers in first quarter 2014 and would provide more granular results later in the year.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.