The commercial comes blaring on: A few people -- real people, not paid actors -- stand in an art gallery trying to guess what the red splotches or blue splotches represent, like an asymmetrical Rorschach test. After several off-the-wall ideas, the host of this tiny game show reveals that they are in fact mobile broadband coverage maps, and the obvious map of the United States is actually Verizon Wireless’ map, cuing the announcer to say, “Verizon’s super-fast 4G LTE is the most reliable and in more places than any other 4G network.” Well, the FCC is out to test mobile carrier’s claims for honesty, and it needs your help.
Launched Thursday, the FCC Speed Test app is now available for Android devices. The app “accurately measures your mobile broadband performance and displays an in-depth view of its factors,” according to the description on Google Play. It tests four important factors in determining the quality of your carrier’s mobile broadband network: download speeds, upload speeds, latency and packet loss.
This comes as new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was confirmed on Nov. 4. Despite concerns that Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries, would favor the companies he regulates, the chairman says he is for the consumer. “My client today is the American people, and I am going to be the most effective advocate they could hope for,” he said in an interview with AllThingsD on Wednesday. The release of this app seems to affirm his statements. But the proof will come in time.
CTIA – The Wireless Association issued a statement Thursday, giving a fuller perspective of the app's role. “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.”
For those concerned with security and privacy, the app is completely anonymous and “no personally identifiable information is collected whatsoever.” Currently, the app is only available on the Google Play store; no information on an iPhone version has been released at this time.