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Which ISPs are you including in the project?

Thirteen of the major US fixed broadband ISPs and the major four mobile broadband providers are actively involved in the project.  Click the fixed and mobile links to learn more about the program code of conduct stakeholders.

Why are you doing it?

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!).

Improving broadband performance needs to focus on much more than connection speed. 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.

What is the “Measuring Broadband America” project?

Originally launched as the Performance Monitoring Network the FCC SamKnows Measuring Broadband America project is a unique project that aims to gather and report statistical data on the performance of broadband providers across the United States. Being able to compare broadband on price, headline speeds (which are still the subject of much controversy!), anecdotal discussion and speed tester results just isn’t enough – the project, with your help, aims to put the information back in the public’s hands.

We have been deploying our rather lovely SamKnows “Whiteboxes”, an asset to any home, filled with some clever technology to volunteers all around the country since 2010. Once connected to your fixed home network the unit performs a series of tests at regular intervals during the day, every day of the year, with little to no involvement from you, simple! The results of these tests are then fed up to our reporting engine and combined with the results of others on the same ISP to form a national view of how that ISP is performing. We’re even working towards future deployments that will allow us to drill down to regional and/or product performance.

This project goes far beyond running just speed tests; our Whiteboxes are lean, mean, broadband testing machines periodically checking latency, packet loss, DNS query times and failures, web page loading times, as well as the obligatory suite of speed tests. Additional tests are also in development too. The goal is to provide a statistically sound measurement of overall broadband quality.

And that’s not all.   Our SamKnows Smartphone App now enables you to measure Mobile broadband performance for the first time.

How is this project different to other speed test results being published?

It’s completely different! The FCC’s Measuring Broadband America program is built on principles of openness and transparency, and provides open methodologies and technologies that improve the availability of information for consumers about their broadband service.   The only similarity is that our testing suite incorporates speed tests, among many other things.

Other speed test solutions were designed with the aim of helping individual users diagnose general speed problems with their connections. While results taken en-mass from them are useful for drawing very general conclusions, their usefulness is limited when you consider:

  1. Other tests consider speed alone, and only for your specific machine. They often don’t provide fundamental information that helps you understand things like how a VoIP call would work, or how good your web browsing experience might be.
  2. Environmental factors (e.g. kind of browser, using a wireless connection, having other Internet users on the network, etc) all impact results.
  3. They’re run on an ad-hoc basis. If you want to compare results at different times of the day then you need to run it yourself every single time.

That’s not to take anything away from speed testing websites; they’re a very useful tool for diagnosing an individual connection’s maximum upload/download speed. But can we draw meaningful and accurate statistics when looking at more than just speed?  Not to the extent we’re aiming to achieve with our project.

What data does SamKnows collect about me?

To participate in the fixed program, SamKnows will require your name, address, and email address in order to ship you the Whitebox and set you up as a user on our systems. This information is not shared with any other party.

Participating in the mobile program is completely anonymous and all you need to do is download the app for your Smart phone.

You can find more info about the fixed program’s privacy policy here, and the mobile terms and conditions and privacy policy here.

Can you see what I’m browsing?

We do not collect any personal browsing data that passes through the device. The Whitebox checks your bandwidth usage to decide whether to postpone the tests – for example, if you’re downloading a large file – in order to prevent any skewed test results.

 

How does this project affect my security and privacy?

We do not collect any personal browsing data that passes through the device. The Whitebox checks your bandwidth usage to decide whether to postpone the tests – for example, if you’re downloading a large file – in order to prevent any skewed test results. The Whitebox simulates the act of browsing to common websites in order to produce a metric for browsing speed rather than use your own browsing.

Testing information uploaded from the unit to our servers contains no information about you whatsoever. Furthermore, all such communications are encrypted, ensuring that results cannot be tampered with en-route.

Your individual unit’s test results will be available to you alone. Your unit’s results will also be aggregated with others from the same ISP to form a larger average set of results that can be viewed publicly.

We have absolutely no intention of doing anything that may adversely affect your privacy or security. If you have any concerns please feel free to contact us to discuss them.

SamKnows, on behalf of the FCC, is collecting and storing broadband performance information, including various personally identifiable information (PII) such as the street addresses, email addresses, online usage patterns, and broadband performance information from those individuals who are participating voluntarily in this test. PII not necessary to conduct this program will not be collected. Certain information provided by or collected from you will be confirmed with a third party to ensure a representative study and otherwise shared with third parties as necessary to conduct the program. SamKnows will not release, disclose to the public, or share any PII with any outside entities, including the FCC, except as is consistent with this policy statement, the SamKnows privacy policy, any agreement you have with SamKnows, and the Privacy Act of 1974, Public Law 93579 (5 U.S.C. 552a(b)(5)). For more information, see the SamKnows privacy policy. The broadband performance information that is made available to the public, including the FCC, will be in an aggregated form and with all PII removed, in compliance with subsection (b)(5) of the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (5 U.S.C. 552a), and thSamKnows privacy policy. The FCC is soliciting and collecting this information authorized by OMB Control No. 3060-1139 in accordance with the requirements and authority of the Paperwork Reduction Act Pub. L. No. 96-511, 94 Stat. 2812 (Dec. 11, 1980); the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-385, Stat 4096 § 103(c)(1); American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009 (ARRA), Pub. L. No. 111-5, 123 Stat 115 (2009); and Section 154(i) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.

Will this project affect my usage of my Internet connection?

No. Our tests are designed to be non-intrusive. The vast majority of the tests that take place throughout the day are very minor and would have no effect on normal Internet activity.

Speed tests are obviously more intensive, but before running these our units will check how busy your wired and wireless networks are. If they are transferring more than 64kbps downstream or 32kbps upstream then the tests will be deferred for 1 minute and then the process is attempted again and repeated for up to 5 minutes.

How do I get technical help?

If you email us at community@samknows.com, we will be happy to help.

What is download speed?

This is the rate of transfer when receiving data from a remote network location (for example, a server) to the local device.

What is upload speed?

This is the rate of transfer when transmitting data from the local device to a remote network location.

What is Latency?

Latency is a measure of the time it takes for a packet of information to reach its destination and then return to the original device.

What is Packet Loss?

Data is transferred in small data packages that are called ‘packets’. Packet loss occurs when one or more packets of data travelling across a network fail to reach their destination.

What effect will this project have on my monthly download cap?

The fixed Whitebox and mobile Smartphone testing technologies involved in the FCC project transfer a large amount of data, which varies according to the speed of your connection and technology.   You can find more specific info in the fixed and mobile sections of this FAQ.

How does this project affect my security and privacy?

Protecting your privacy is of paramount concern.  To participate in the fixed program, SamKnows will require your name, address, and email address in order to ship you the Whitebox and set you up as a user on our systems. This information is not shared with any other party.  Participating in the mobile program is completely anonymous and all you need to do is download the app for your Smart phone.

You can find more info about the Fixed program’s privacy policy here, and the mobile terms and conditions and privacy policy here.