The FCC Needs Your Internet Speed to Improve Broadband Data

In an effort to fix the Federal Communications Commission's misleading broadband coverage data, the agency is asking the public to download and use its new speed test app.

a digital rendering of high-speed internet
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It's not every day that using an application on one's phone can potentially help public policy. The Federal Communications Commission is now promoting its speed test apps so that it can improve the information in its high-speed Internet coverage maps, which are used to distribute broadband funds to local areas and states.  

The announcement about the speed apps, which are available for both Android and Apple devices, came Monday. Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the information gathered through this initiative will contribute to a "comprehensive, user-friendly data set on broadband availability." 

"Expanding the base of consumers who use the FCC Speed Test app will enable us to provide improved coverage information to the public and add to the measurement tools we’re developing to show where broadband is truly available throughout the United States," Rosenworcel stated in the announcement. 

According to the FCC's website, citizens will need to view this speed test initiative as a continuous process that might require future participation. 

"We expect that some of the information collected through the app will be incorporated into the Commission’s broadband data collection systems, including challenges to provider-submitted maps and our collection of additional crowdsourced data," the FCC website reads. "As these new capabilities become available, app users may be asked to update or reinstall a new version of the app and to provide additional information and consents that will allow us to collect more precise speed test and location data for potential uses in developing our public maps."

For years, the FCC's Form 477 data, which is used to create the agency's broadband maps, has received negative attention. Under Form 477, a census block is "served" if only one household has access to an Internet speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. As a result, many census blocks with poor broadband coverage have been ineligible for federal funds.

Criticism only seemed to intensify last year when the FCC approved the use of 477 data for distributing about $16 billion of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Rosenworcel was in the minority that opposed this decision. 

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Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.
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