While the technology and political establishment is reeling off reactions to the Federal Communication’s net neutrality vote to approve the first federal rules on Internet traffic will mean for net neutrality, one thing at least is clear: the FCC has launched an Open Internet Apps Challenge on Challenge.gov.
The contest is reasonably straightforward, at least as a proposal; challenge developers to create applications that test networks that inform consumers about broadband Internet connections. Specifically:
The Open Internet Challenge is designed to encourage the development of creative, innovative and functional Internet software tools for fixed or mobile broadband that provide users with real-time data about their Internet connection and, when aggregated, can show Internet-wide patterns and trends.
Apps that can detect, aggregate and analyze such information might be of use to both the agency and consumers alike, in terms of making policy or consumption decisions:
The Open Internet Challenge seeks to encourage the development of creative, innovative and functional applications that provide users with information about the extent to which their fixed or mobile broadband Internet services are consistent with open Internet principles. These software tools could, for example, detect whether a broadband provider is interfering with DNS responses, application packet headers, or content.
These applications should also collect anonoymized data that is useful for network research and analysis that enables the discovery of patterns and trends in Internet openness.
One popular platform for Internet software tools is Measurement Lab (M-Lab), which “is an open, distributed server platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools.” Those interested in running their software tools on the M-Lab platform should contact the M-Lab steering committee, which coordinates research on the M-Lab platform.
The commission is also soliciting research as part of the challenge:
In addition to measurement tools, this challenge also seeks research papers that analyze relevant Internet openness measurement techniques, approaches, and data. The Challenge is designed to encourage and reward the creation of novel, innovative and useful research. The research must be new or recent and directly involve open Internet principles. For example such research may illuminate how widely fixed and mobile networks observe the FCC’s open Internet principles or how advanced network services can be provided in a way that adheres to the spirit of the open Internet. Such research papers need to have been peer-reviewed by a recognized scientific conference or journal and must have been published since January 2007. (Dissertations, white papers and technical reports are not acceptable, but may be referenced for further details within the paper.) Research on Internet openness can improve policy making and advance Internet transparency, which helps to sustain a healthy Internet.
Will it take off? Another challenge, so to speak, might be the incentives. The winners will earn a free (up $500/person in travel expenses) trip to FCC headquarters in Washington, DC, where they’ll go to an FCC Chairman’s reception, present their work to the Commission, receive plaque and “have their apps and research featured on the FCC’s website and social media outlets.”
It’s also not clear how the development community will feel about the FCC after today’s hearing on somewhat controversial net neutrality rules, for which a public document still hasn’t been published online. Geeks and government have converged at the FCC before. If this challenge is going to take off, they’ll need to do a lot of outreach to encourage the development community to participate, which in turn will likely also mean exactly what the new open Internet principles will mean in practice. Stay tuned.