FCC to test carriers' mobile broadband performance

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says it plans to start evaluating mobile broadband speeds in order to let customers know whether they're getting value for money.

In a similar project to its broadband speed measurement program, it plans to work with wireless carriers to give consumers detailed information about their mobile broadband performance.

The project's been credited with bringing about a substantial improvement in the accuracy of advertised broadband speeds in the year since it was launched.

"We know from experience: transparency on broadband speeds drives improvement in broadband speeds. Our ongoing Measuring Broadband America program has helped improve performance in wired broadband," says FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

"Our new mobile broadband measurement initiative extends the program to smartphones and other wireless devices. It will empower consumers and encourage improvements in mobile networks and programs, benefiting millions of Americans."

The FCC says that major wireless carriers and CTIA-The Wireless Association have already agreed to cooperate with the project.

However, Consumer Watchdog says the plans don't go far enough. It wants phone carriers to be forced to disclose actual data speeds in their advertisements - particularly when pushing 4G services. Operators, it says, promise faster 4G services  "either without actually making improvements to existing products and services or without disclosing the meaning of 'faster'."

Consumer Watchdog highlights AT&T as an offender. In a petition to the FCC, it claims that the company marketed the iPhone 4S as a faster, 4G phone, without actually improving speeds at all.

"The FCC's mobile broadband testing and measurement program does not go far enough," says Laura Antonini, Consumer Watchdog staff attorney.

"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."