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M-Lab Supports Call for FCC to Commit to Openness and Transparency in Broadband Measurement

Published:   July 18, 2012

Washington DC - Today, over 60 preeminent researchers for network and Internet measurement sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski urging the FCC to commit to the following principles and actions for broadband measurement:  
1. All network data collected be released publicly, in its raw, non-aggregated
form, no later than one year after its collection date.
2. The tests used to measure the network be open-source, allowing the
methodology used in measurement to be vetted and improved by collective
scientific insight.

3. The measurement infrastructure on which the tests run be openly documented,
consistently run, and independently managed by the research community.
4. The analytic and statistical methodologies applied to the raw data in the
production of a published report be released openly, allowing peer review and
replication of results by independent researchers.

5. The program make commitments to operational openness that explicitly includes participants from the research and public interest community.

Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute and co-founder of Measurement Lab, issued the following statement on the matter:

"Transparency, openness, and peer review are the foundation for sound scientific methodologies - they are the key characteristics that allow data gathered through the platform like M-Lab to be used robustly by the scientific, academic and policy-making community. It is critical that these practices guide the work of the FCC's Broadband Measurement Program and ensure that the results from their data-collection are scientifically sound. I echo the research community's request that the Commission reestablish its commitment to these principles."

Measurement-Lab (M-Lab) is a collaborative effort founded by Vint Cerf, Sascha Meinrath, and a large body of network researchers that is dedicated to promoting scientifically sound broadband measurement at scale. 

M-Lab provides a broadly distributed, independently managed, open and consistent server platform on which researchers and participating partners run broadband measurement tools. As a condition for access to the platform, researchers and participating partners must make all data collected by these tools publicly available for the benefit of research. This requirement allows research at scale, and allows published results to be vetted and confirmed by the scientific community.

As a part of this commitment to sound science and transparent measurement, M-Lab has worked with the FCC on its broadband measurement program. M-Lab provides use  of its platform to the collaborative free of charge, and UK company SamKnows runs its test on M-Lab's servers. 

Thus far, all of the data collected and used in the FCC's published reports has been collected on M-Lab's platform. Because this program produces the canonical US statistics on broadband performance, we have been gratified to contribute, and have lauded the FCC's commitment to openness and transparency.

M-Lab's goal is to promote sound science around broadband measurement, and sound science requires openness and transparency to ensure verifiable and replicable results. In recent months M-Lab has expressed concern that the measurement program was drifting away from its commitments to open data and transparency. In particular, a proposal circulated to the group to include ISP-run servers in the measurement process raised alarm. This change would effectively transform an open program into a closed program, giving the ISPs control over measurements purported to gauge their performance.

This alarm was felt particularly in the research community. A number of those in this community looked at the proposal and recognized that it represented a significant shift. A large group of researchers, some affiliated with M-Lab, many not, came together to express their concern to the FCC Chairman in an open letter. Their letter presents the view of a large portion of the scientific research community, and represents an opportunity to re-tune the broadband measurement program to ensure that it clearly and practically embraces the principles of sound scientific process.

M-Lab is committed to working with the FCC to assess ensure that these principles form the foundation of an accurate, scientifically-sound broadband measurement program.

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