FCC app lets consumers check how mobile broadband providers stack up

The app will help users measure the broadband speed they get, and provide aggregate data to FCC

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has released a smartphone app that will allow users to measure the speed of their mobile broadband connection, while providing aggregate data to the agency for measuring nationwide mobile broadband network performance.

The FCC will in turn provide consumers, starting from early next year, with maps and other information on mobile broadband performance, which will help consumers compare the performance of their service providers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expects such information will boost service quality. A 2011 report on home broadband performance created an incentive for lower-ranked Internet service providers to boost network performance, he said in a statement. The FCC also expects the app to be an important tool for the agency as the feedback is expected to provide the "facts" the FCC needs for its decisions.

Released as open-source software on Thursday, the free FCC Speed Test App is available for Android smartphones, with a version for the iPhone also planned. It will test network performance for parameters such as upload and download speed, latency and packet loss.

The app is currently in its "public beta" version, and the agency will collect feedback from the public on how to improve it, apart from the FCC's own plan for improvements.

Once installed, the app will automatically run the mobile broadband tests in the background when the smartphone is not in use, with a manual option for on-demand testing also available.

The data collected through the app will be aggregated and anonymous, and will help the FCC's Measuring Broadband America program. The FCC said that it would not collect personal or uniquely identifiable information.

At his first meeting after taking charge as chairman, Wheeler also served an ultimatum to carriers, asking them to make it easier for subscribers to get their mobile phones unlocked for use on other networks after the end of their contracts, or face FCC regulation.

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