Last year we saw the Federal Communications Commission finally take a long hard look at the Internet and the way access to it is sold to customers. As part of a U.S. wide test of broadband providers from the vantage of the end-user, the FCC has partnered with Samknows to give away preconfigured Wireless-N routers that will collect data on Internet connections.
To become part of the process, ISP customers need only sign up at TestMyISP.com.
In a particularly smirk-inducing play, the website for the initiative has SamKnows comparing themselves to Batman. To give everyone an idea of what they’re up to and why, here’s what their FAQ has to say,
We’re striving for greater transparency within the broadband market. There’s simply nothing else like it out there anywhere (to the best of our knowledge anyway!). The statistics will provide a whole new means of looking at broadband services, levelling the playing field and making the industry more accountable and work harder for the consumer.
Presently one might look at a 16Mbps headline speed and assume that it means the service will be good for online gaming. An incorrect assumption is being made here – raw speed is far less important than many think. Latency and packet loss are far more important for online gaming. Our network will measure both of these factors (and many more) across all of the ISPs – greater insight into how the ISP’s perform, more insightful information for the consumer.
Just like Batman (kind of) we’ve taken it upon ourselves to do this because nobody else has! We think it’ll generate some fantastically interesting data, which we intend to share with you.
The FCC has been pushing for greater transparency and regulation of ISPs and Internet connectivity—especially important noting their newest proposal with the Open Internet Order—and one way that they’ll be able to support the grounds for their decisions will be with actual data flowing out of the Internet. Right now, most of this information comes from ISPs themselves, research organizations who run websites that offer to test the broadband connections for users, and volunteers who run obscure apps on their computers to aid in the collection of data.
With 10,000 routers in the field that transparently run their own data collection for later analysis spread appropriately across the United States a great deal of technographic data could be collected as to Internet penetration, use, bandwidth, and actual connectivity. Statistically this will include some things that pure volunteer and ISP-oriented data would probably miss out on.
So who is Batman? Samknows is an ISP reliability and transparency industry watchdog founded in 2008 who tout themselves as attempting to provide accurate data to customers. They even release a monthly ISP Report Card newsletter. They claim to have “invented a technology to measure broadband performance, establishing it as the provider of choice to Governments and ISPs around the world.” They intend to remain a free resource for customers and get their software embedded into a myriad of Internet devices to build the most accurate picture of global broadband performance.
The testing will do a lot more than just attempt to compare overall service and speed to what the ISP tells customers they’re selling but a comprehensive collapse of all the elements that go into a data connection. They’ll be studying a variety of factors including jitter (variation in time between packet arrivals), latency and packet loss for ICMP and UDP, DNS query resolution time and failure rate, and even video streaming performance. A great deal of this information might even give the FCC a lot of reasonable information on how to implement or not regulate things like Net Neutrality.
It wasn’t until the end of the FAQ that I actually became interested in what SamKnows meant to do with the data. In an act pure-of-heart as geeks go, they point out that people will have access to the graphs of their own usage data. They even include a series of screenshots of what their statistics will look like.
The sort of data collected over the three year long testing period should provide some very interesting statistics about US Internet topography as experienced by end-users and I am hoping for some really interesting visualizations to emerge. Who knows, they might even get the data released to something like Google Public Data Explorer, an act which would enable watchdog groups and journalists to sift their own way through the data.
Oh yes, I almost forgot, the Samknows Wireless-N router is yours to keep if you end up getting one and complete the testing period.