FCC app taps masses for mobile broadband speed research

The commission this week will discuss an app that could allow consumers to determine whether they are getting the mobile data speeds they're paying for.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
2 min read

Mobile broadband speeds can vary widely, but now the Federal Communications Commission is turning to the smartphone community to get a more accurate picture of how wireless carriers compare.

The FCC is expected to hear a presentation this week on the FCC Speed Test App for Android, which will record smartphone users' data speeds nationwide for analysis by the commission, according to a meeting agenda reported Friday by the Wall Street Journal. The data gleaned from the project could help consumers determine whether they are getting the mobile data speeds they expect for their subscription costs.

"The statistically sound methodology of the program allows comparisons and analyses that are valuable to consumers and spur competition among service providers," the agency said when it unveiled the new broadband measurement program in September 2012.

The four major US wireless carriers have agreed to cooperate with the app, the Journal reported. The app is currently only available for Android handsets, but the commission said in an FAQ that it is also working on iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows version, although no release targets were revealed.

The app will presumably operate like Speedtest.net, a free speedometer app that measures the upload and download speeds on cellular connections on Android, iPhone, and Windows handsets.

Thursday's meeting will be the commission's first since Tom Wheeler was confirmed by the US Senate as the new FCC chairman late last month. Wheeler, a former telecommunications lobbyist, has adopted a philosophy that promotes market competition over regulation in the booming broadband market.