The Federal Communications Commission is encouraging folks to use its internet speed test app, available for free across the country to anyone with an Android or iOS device, so it can collect more accurate internet speed data for its broadband deployment efforts.
“To close the gap between digital haves and have nots, we are working to build a comprehensive, user-friendly dataset on broadband availability,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement today. “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.”
The app works just like other internet speed tests from the likes of Ookla and Google—simply hit a button and the app will measure your download and upload speeds. The FCC app produced similar results to Ookla’s in my testing. Connected to my 5.0GHz wifi band, the FCC’s app said my download speed was 282 Mbps and my upload speed was 23.4 Mbps. (I pay for 400 Mbps down.) Ookla gave me a result of 270 Mbps down and 22.0 Mbps up.
However, on a 4G LTE connection, the FCC app spat out a result of 56.3 Mbps down and 10.8 Mbps up, while Ookla reported 59.6 Mbps down and 2.81 Mbps up.
One thing the Ookla doesn’t have is the ability to track your mobile data usage. The FCC recently added this to its app, so if you plan on testing your internet speed on a 4G or 5G connection instead of wifi you’ll know how much data you’re using by doing that. You can turn this feature on or off, and while it’s on, you can also set a mobile data limit, with an option to choose which day of the month your data gets reset based on their billing cycle.
But like Ookla, the FCC’s app also provides users with other measurements, such as latency, jitter, and packet loss—information that the average internet user might not need, but someone who plays online games a lot would probably find helpful, especially if they are playing over the cloud.
The FCC speed test app has been around for several years. It first launched in 2013 for Android devices, and then again in 2014 for iOS devices. The goal of the app was the same back then: to crowdsource internet and mobile speed data to improve broadband deployment efforts.
It’s not clear what the FCC has been doing with all that data since 2014, or if it even got enough, but considering the agency is renewing its push for people to use it, it suggests the app hasn’t been working out as the FCC hoped over the last several years.
But your phone is only one way to connect to the internet. You may see varying wifi speeds from your laptop or desktop, and connecting either of those to your router via Ethernet will always produce the best results. Phone connectivity is only one piece of the puzzle, so if the FCC truly wants a comprehensive portrait of internet connectivity in the U.S., it will need to look at other data points, too.