Feature Article

November 15, 2013

Transparency is Good for Consumers, Might be Equally Good for Mobile ISPs

Sometimes, "transparency" does not help all providers, or some providers of goods and services, as much as it helps consumers and buyers of those products and services.

But U.S. mobile service providers might just find that transparency helps them.

Transparency is among the fundamental “Internet freedoms” that form the foundation of Federal Communications Commission policy on the U.S. Internet.

The foundation includes transparency, no blocking of lawful applications, devices and services, and no unreasonable discrimination (networks can be managed to preserve performance, but ISPs cannot degrade the performance of specific services or apps).

The FCC principles outlaw “pay for priority” mechanisms for fixed network Internet access provided to consumer customers, with the exception of managed services such as voice or video entertainment services that share access pipes.

The transparency clause requires Internet service providers to publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of broadband Internet access services sufficient for consumers to make informed choices.

To aid in that process, the FCC is launching a new FCC Speed Test app that will provide data from users of mobile phones for Internet access. 

Available for Android phones from Google Play, and soon from the Apple App Store, the application will measure mobile broadband performance in four active categories: download speed, upload speed, latency, and packet loss.

To better analyze wireless broadband performance, several other passive metrics are recorded, such as signal strength of the connection, and device manufacturer and model. The application tests run periodically in the background.

The total amount of data used by the application is configured by default not to exceed 100 MB per month. While the tests are engineered not to interfere with a user's broadband Internet use, the application can also be configured not to perform any automated background testing.

While providing greater end user transparency, the tests also might be useful for service providers to benchmark their performance against other competitors. The data might also help validate other studies that suggest speeds are growing fast.

A 2013 study by Google found that mobile access speeds and desktop access speeds improved, even though webpages, for example, got bigger by over 56 percent during the measurement period.

Global mobile access speeds improved about 30 percent, year over year. In the United States, mobile access speeds increased 40 percent between April 2012 and April 2013.

It is possible the new FCC app will provide even more granular results, and confirm the speed improvements.

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