FCC to seek real-world data on mobile speeds

The agency says major carriers and CTIA have already agreed to cooperate with the initiative

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is getting ready to measure mobile data speeds in a joint project with major carriers and other participants.

On Sept. 21, the FCC will hold a public meeting in Washington, D.C., where it will seek participation by other parties, including public researchers. At the meeting, FCC staff will discuss methods for testing mobile service and for remotely acquiring and analyzing performance data.

Mobile operators make a variety of claims about the speeds that their networks offer, but there is no formal system for determining or disclosing the actual performance of those networks. The National Broadband Plan, completed in 2010, called for providing better information to consumers about their broadband service. The FCC already has run a testing program for wireline broadband services such as DSL (digital subscriber line) and cable.

Major wireless carriers and CTIA, the main industry group for U.S. mobile operators, have already made commitments to cooperate in the mobile speed program, the agency said in a public notice issued Tuesday.

However, the nonprofit advocacy group Consumer Watchdog said on Wednesday that the FCC's plan falls short because it doesn't require carriers to disclose their network performance to consumers.

"The public may finally get some reliable information on mobile broadband data speeds, but it will not prevent wireless carriers from fooling consumers with inaccurate and confusing data speed claims," Consumer Watchdog said in a statement attributed to Staff Attorney Laura Antonini. The group petitioned the FCC last month to require carriers to state actual network speeds in ads and at the point of sale.

The planned mobile testing initiative follows the FCC's program for gathering data about real-world speeds on fixed broadband networks. In 2010, the agency recruited 10,000 volunteers to test their broadband speeds.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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