Home > Broadband, Customer service, FCC, Telecommunications > I’m being tracked by the government!

I’m being tracked by the government!

Well, not personally. But my home broadband connection is being monitored by the FCC. Not to worry, I volunteered for this.

Nearly a year ago I read an FCC press release about the agency wanting to monitor a sampling of broadband subscribers across the nation to get a detailed idea of how well service measured up to provider promises. On a lark, I signed up.

My house is like an archeological tel of internet access. The old dial-up line is still snaked along a baseboard to a socket near where one of the main computers sits. The original Dell 486 has been replaced by successive Macs, but old disks, even a floppy or two, still inhabit shelves. We’ve had two successive DSL providers over the years, before signing up last fall for Verizon FIOS.

Anyhow, months went by after I sent my information to the FCC. Then I was contacted by an outfit called SamKnows. That’s the FCC’s contractor for this project. (Isn’t that funny? Uncle Sam asking SamKnows for help.) They told me I’d made it through initial screening. Another information request, another couple of months, and now I was a finalist. I think there was another round of online information requested before the FCC informed me, via SamKnows, that I’d been chosen as a sampling site. Woooweee!

A month after that, a brand new NetGear 802.11n wireless router arrived via UPS. I didn’t quite get around to installing it immediately. But SamKnows kept noodging me with reminder e-mails. Last night I finally installed it.

SamKnows provided excellent instructions. It knew all about my Verizon-provided router. Unlike most commodity units, it has a coaxial cable input. So it was necessary to daisy chain the FCC-provided router to the Verizon router with a Cat-5 cable. The wired stage configured itself. But I had to log onto the Verizon router (SamKnows mysteriously knew its URL) to disable the wireless stage. All of the WiFi devices in the house — four notebook computers, two iPhones and an iPad — had to be remapped to the Netzero.

All in all, everything went perfectly. A couple of hours later, I received a confirmation email from SamKnows, reassuring me it had detected what they call the white-box router.

My wife wanted to know, what else is that thing monitoring? And how long would we have it sitting there on her desk?

I hope and presume SamKnows knows only my FIOS performance. Earlier communications from SamKnows had directed me to a broadband test site. That test indicated I am getting the upload and download speeds Verizon promises. Whether my (boring) web viewing habits or e-mails are being sniffed and sent to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, I have no idea. Nor do I know how long they’ll be watching.

It occurs to me that in my broadcast life on Federal News Radio in Washington, I am subject to monitoring by the FCC. So I’d say Genachowski owes me a beer.

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