Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday released its first smartphone app, a free program that allows consumers to measure the broadband speed they are getting on their mobile devices and to determine whether it is as fast as wireless companies say.

So far, the app works only on smartphones that run the Android operating system, but the commission is working on an iPhone version, which it expects to be ready by the end of January. The app provides information on upload and download speeds and on how efficiently data is transmitted, a measure known as packet loss.

The app, FCC Speed Test, will also allow the commission to aggregate data about broadband speeds from consumers across the country. It will use the data to create an interactive map, giving consumers a tool to use in comparison shopping rather than relying on wireless companies’ promises.

Tom Wheeler, who was presiding over his first FCC meeting as chairman, said the app was a “public beta” version, meaning that the commission wanted to hear suggestions for improvement from consumers and app developers.

“We know from experience that this type of transparency about broadband speeds is not only helpful to consumers on a day-to-day basis, but also that it can drive improvements in network performance,” Wheeler said.

The app, available in the Google Play store, will run periodically in the background on a consumer’s phone, automatically performing tests when a user is not otherwise using the phone.

FCC officials stressed that the software would not collect any personal or uniquely identifiable information, and that it would release information only after the data was analyzed. The app uses open-source code, and the agency details its methodologies and privacy policy on its website.

The commission also voted unanimously to consider, on a case-by-case basis, allowing foreign companies to own more than the current limit of 25 percent of a television or radio licensee.

If it approves such a request, however, the FCC might ask the broadcaster to free up some of its airwaves for use in wireless broadband. The commission has been seeking broadcasters that would give up some of their airwaves or move to another part of the broadcast spectrum to free up space that can be auctioned off for more wireless broadband service.