EFF Releases ISP Throttling Detector

The potential throttling by ISPs of certain types of Internet traffic has been in the news quite a bit lately. In fact, this last Friday, the FCC issued a ruling (PDF) against Comcast, stating that "Comcast's network management practices discriminate among applications rather than treating all equally and are inconsistent with the concept of an open and accessible Internet."

Whether the FCC actually has the authority to take action against Comcast in this matter is still under debate, but the core of the FCC's argument is that Comcast engaged in "discriminatory network management practices" by monitoring and selectively blocking users' access to peer-to-peer (P2P) connections. The FCC's position is that it is its role to protect "consumers' access to lawful content." (Interestingly, the FCC states that "blocking unlawful content such as child pornography or pirated music of video would be consistent with federal Internet policy.") It also needs to be stated that Comcast is not the only ISP that has used such network management practices; but as one of the largest ISP in the U.S., Comcast is an easy target--and perhaps one that the FCC is looking to make an example of so that other ISPs take notice.

Credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation

One of the players in this drama has been the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which conducted tests that eventually helped out Comcast's network management practices. Now the EFF is taking another step forward with its net neutrality advocacy by releasing its own tool to the public for detecting if ISPs are throttling traffic. The new tool is called Switzerland, and is built upon a version of another EFF-developed ISP throttling detector it developed last year, pcapdiff.

Before you get your hopes too high and think that you can just download the app and hit the "test" button, the current version of Switzerland (which the EFF calls an "alpha release") runs only from the command line and might not even run on all operating systems. Right now, only those familiar with installing and compiling Linux apps are likely to get the software running. As the EFF is releasing Switzerland as an open-source application, the EFF hopes that developers will make the application easier to use and run stable on more OSes, so as to be accessible to a much wider audience.

"Developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Switzerland is an open source software tool for testing the integrity of data communications over networks, ISPs and firewalls. It will spot IP packets which are forged or modified between clients, inform you, and give you copies of the modified packets...

Switzerland is designed to detect the modification or injection of packets of data traveling over IP networks, including those introduced by anti-P2P tools from Sandvine (widely believed to be used by Comcast to interfere with BitTorrent uploads) and AudibleMagic, advertising injection systems like FairEagle, censorship systems like the Great Firewall of China, and other systems that we don't know about yet."

By putting this tool into the hands of the public, the EFF hopes to educate Internet users about what it considers a threat to people's "freedom," and to enable folks to "gather evidence about ISP interference practices." The EFF is a proponent of net neutrality and feels that the more voices added to the call for net neutrality, the more likely it will actually happen (be it by sanctions, legislation, or self-regulation).