FCC challenge: Develop apps to test Internet connectivity

Tuesday - 1/11/2011, 4:24pm EST

Zachary Katz, legal advisor, FCC

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The Federal Communications Commission is encouraging software developers and researchers to create applications that will help consumers learn more about their Internet connections for the "FCC Open Internet Apps Challenge."

Zachary Katz, legal advisor to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, told the DorobekINSIDER that the challenge is part of a greater effort to gauge broadband providers' compliance with the FCC's Open Internet Rules:

The new rules call for broadband providers to disclose information about Internet speed. Providers cannot block content or "unreasonably discriminate" against lawful content, Katz said. In other words, providers are prohibited from picking winners and losers, he said.

With the challenge, "The idea here is that you could use software tools -- what we call open Internet apps -- to empower consumers, entrepreneurs and innovators to determine if any problematic conduct that would involve blocking or unreasonable discrimination is actually occurring out there in the marketplace," Katz said. "Or, as we hope, broadband providers are acting consistent with these principles, treating traffic as they should."

The idea for the challenge grew out of FCC's own app development. Through www.broadband.gov, people used their mobile phones or computers to test broadband connections. More than a million tests occurred, Katz said. People then reported their data into a database that could be analyzed by how connection speeds are changing over time or by region, Katz said.

"It seemed like a success and was something we wanted to build on," he said.

The challenge is targeted at developers, but another component of the challenge calls for research papers from academics to analyze the best ways to design Internet openness applications, Katz said.

The FCC is taking submissions from Feb. 1 to June 1, 2011. Judging will occur in early summer and winners announced in August, Katz said. He added that there is a People's Choice Award as well.

The winners will be invited to FCC headquarters in Washington, D.C., and present their work to the FCC. Winners will have their apps and research featured on the FCC's website.

This isn't the first time the FCC has turned to the public for innovative ideas. In another challenge, the agency is asking the public to create a multimedia presentation that shows how cloud computing can address some of the communication challenges for disabled people.