FCC Announces Speed Test App to Gauge Whether Wireless Customers Are Getting What They Pay For

November 9, 2013 - Written By Samantha P. Hawthorne

While mobile service prices continue to climb, the Federal Communications Commission is on a mission to uncover if consumers are actually getting what they pay for. New FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced Friday that the organization will soon be introducing an application that will analyze just how well the four major carriers stack up against each other in terms of data speeds.  The smartphone application, FCC Speed Test, will be discussed in detail during an open session Nov. 14. Upon initial release, it will only be available for Android smartphones. Back in September 2012, the FCC announced its plans for the project, saying they wanted to provide customers with “a report card” of mobile broadband speed carriers “across the country.” Wheeler explained that by using statistics gathered directly from consumers, the FCC will be able to measure the performance of each mobile network to evaluate broadband availability and prices.



Since so many consumers are switching over to wireless solutions, FCC’s survey on land-based broadband providers in August 2011 is hardly relevant in today’s market. The survey was conducted to help consumers “make informed choices about purchasing and using (land-based) broadband.” The results of that first nationwide performance study indicated that most participating providers had speeds closely matching that to what they advertised. Can we say the same about today’s mobile networks? Not only was the study useful for consumers searching for the perfect broadband provider, it was also useful for providers competing in the market; at least one internet service provider stepped up their game and increased its performance during peak hours.

The extravagant costs, and at times poor data coverage, of mobile networks has often resulted in Wi-Fi networks being the preferred method of internet-browsing. The average consumer not only pays for high-speed internet at home, they also pay the ability to access the World Wide Web wherever they go. AT&T currently offers data plans ranging from $20 a month for extremely limited access, to $335 for 50 GB of data. Verizon Wireless data plans cost a bit more, ranging from $40 a month to $375 for similar amounts of data, at supposedly similar speeds. Meanwhile, static internet services with similar, if not better speeds, usually cost around $20-$40 for unlimited monthly use. The cost of instant gratification is certainly appalling – hopefully the FCC’s new app will rectify that in one way or another.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Wheeler said his top priority is ensuring broadband and wireless markets remain competitive. In order to do this, they must rely on the statistics collected by Americans through its speed test app. The results may either lead way to government intervention, or move for increased competition between carriers. Whatever the case, we will soon have confirmation on whether we truly get what we pay for.