The Federal Communications Commission is encouraging Americans to use the FCC mobile app to get accurate information about their broadband connections. The telecoms regulator issued an announcement on Monday saying, “the app provides a way for consumers to test the performance of their mobile and in-home broadband networks.”
The FCC didn’t say the app data would influence policy decisions, saying instead that the figures from the app “will help to inform the FCC’s efforts to collect more accurate and granular broadband deployment data.”
The app has been available to the public since 2014. The current version is the fourth one, published last year. It was made by the internet metrics company SamKnows, which was started by Sam Crawford in 2008. Crawford is still the CTO of the company and is popular on the internet for helping create actionable stats.
The development of the app has mirrored political battles around broadband provisions. The app was first created under the leadership of Tom Wheeler, who fought tooth and nail against the cable industry to put subscribers first. Big Cable has spent years manipulating the data the FCC requests in regards to the speed and provision of broadband services, making it seem like the market is more competitive and that internet speeds are better than ever. Wheeler said that he hoped to expose the depths of the data manipulation through the crowdsourcing app.
Things changed when Ajit Pai took over the FCC. Pai dismantled efforts to fight Big Tech and ended the fight against the oligopoly of the cable industry. He also tried to change the definition of broadband internet speed and discarded net neutrality laws. His replacement, Jessica Rosenworcel, brought the app back.
The push for better regulation doesn’t mean things aer going to change soon. Big Cable has argued for years – successfully at that – that data provided by users of an app isn’t robust enough to form the basis of government decisions. The FCC will have to use the data to push for change instead of taking direct action with it.
Everybody understands that the official FCC data from ISPs is worthless. The more people use the FCC app, the more this inaccuracy is highlighted and the further the FCC can go. The big question is whether the FCC can make enough progress in the next four years to make a real difference.
If the Republicans win the 2024 election, then the FCC will likely be headed by another Ajit Pai – if not someone worse.