FCC launches open Internet developer challenge for apps for network QoS testing

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.

FCC hosts developer day focused on open government innovation

Will a rebooted FCC.gov become a platform for an ecosystem of applications driven by open government data? If that vision is going to come to fruition, the nation’s pre-eminent communication regulator will have to do more than just publish open data sets in machine readable formats online: it will have to develop a community of software developers that benefits to creating such applications.

Monday’s FCC developer day is a first step towards that future. Whether it’s a successful one will be in part predicated upon whether the applications created by the “civic hackers” present help citizens, businesses or other organizations do something new or ease a given process.

UPDATE: One key member of the open government community is the founder of Development Seed, Eric Gunderson. Gunderson has been involved in some of the most innovative mapping projects in open government over the past few years, along with the development of the platform for the new data.worldbank.org. If you’re looking for an unvarnished assessment of the meaning of the FCC’s effort and developer outreach, look no further:

Does it make sense to experiment? “In an online world, the best ideas can and do come from anyone, anywhere,” said FCC chairman Genachowski in a prepared statement. “Tapping into the innovation happening at the edge and in the cloud is a no brainer. The FCC’s first-ever Open Developer Day imports a best practice from the tech industry to help improve accessibility. It is part of our ongoing effort to harness technology to transform the FCC into a model of excellence in government.”

As the statement hints, addressing the requirements of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act that President Obama signed into law last month.

In order to meet that goal, the FCC is taking an open government tack, asking the civic development community to contribute to that effort. The agency’s first data officer, Greg Elin, explained more about the constituents for today’s dev day on the Blogband blog:

Programmers from the Yahoo! Developer Network will be on hand to demo their tools and provide guidance. They will give an overview of YQL, their query language which allows developers to “access and shape data across the Internet through one simple language, eliminating the need to learn how to call different APIs.” We will also see a demonstration of their YUI Library, a set of “utilities and controls … for building richly interactive web applications.”

An undertone, pervading a significant strand of the discussion, will be the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. In signing the act last month, President Obama said the act “will make it easier for people who are deaf, blind or live with a visual impairment to do what many of us take for granted…  It sets new standards so that Americans with disabilities can take advantage of the technology our economy depends on.”

The full day event will start at 9:00am and take place in Washington, DC at FCC headquarters. All developers are welcome free of charge. Bring a laptop and RSVP soon. If you’re not in the DC area and are unable to make it down here, we will be live streaming portions of the day. You can also join the discussion on Twitter using the hashtag #fccdevday. To email questions write to livequestions [at] fcc [dot] gov. You can participate by visiting Accessible Event, and entering the event code 00520237

For more context on what the FCC is trying to accomplish with FCC.gov/developer, watch a speech from the chairman and managing director Steve Van Roeckel at the 2010 Gov 2.0 Summit, below: