Google Launches ISP Throttling Detector

Never one to sit idly by on the sidelines and let things play out on their own, Google has always tried to play an active role in shaping how Internet technology is used and regulated. Net neutrality is one of the concerns that Google has been very vocal about, and now Google is putting tools into the hands of researchers and everyday users to help us determine if ISPs are "blocking or throttling particular applications," such as using traffic shaping and network prioritization practices--just like the ones Cox Communications announced it will be experimenting with starting next month in Kansas and Arkansas.

These tools are part of the new Measurement Lab (M-Lab) that Google just unveiled yesterday, with its partners on this project, the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute and the PlanetLab Consortium. M-Lab is designed to be "an open platform that researchers can use to deploy Internet measurement tools." Google will work with researchers to help them develop relevant Internet measurement tools and provide a platform from which the tools can be made available to other researchers and users.

"Over the course of early 2009, Google will provide researchers with 36 servers in 12 locations in the U.S. and Europe. All data collected via M-Lab will be made publicly available for other researchers to build on. M-Lab is intended to be a truly community-based effort, and we welcome the support of other companies, institutions, researchers, and users that want to provide servers, tools, or other resources that can help the platform flourish."

Back in June 2008, Richard Whitt--Senior Policy Director for Google--announced during a panel discussion at Santa Clara University that Google was developing an ISP throttling detector. The launch of M-Lab is the first public step in this endeavor, and it has launched with three Internet Connection measurement tools:

Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT): A test that measures downstream and upstream speeds, and attempts to diagnoses any problems that might be impacting speed.

Glasnost: A test that attempts to determine if an ISP is "throttling or blocking BitTorrent." This is just the first of more tests to come that will determine if an ISP is "performing application-specific traffic shaping."

Network Path and Application Diagnosis (NPAD): "NPAD diagnoses some of the common problems effecting the last network mile and end-users' systems. These are the most common causes of all performance problems on wide area network paths."

Two more tools are already in the works, with "coming soon" placeholders on the M-Lab site:

DiffProbe: "Determine whether an ISP is giving some traffic a lower priority than other traffic."

NANO: "Determine whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications, or destinations."

M-Labs states that at this initial stage it regards these tools only as a "proof of concept." Two of three initial tools are currently housed on only three servers in San Francisco, California. As such, the tools can only support a limited number of concurrent users at any time. The other tool, Glasnost--which we reported on back in May 2008--is a project from the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems in Germany.

As we were working on this news story, we were unable to successfully access any of the three tools--either our browser wasn't able to establish a connection or we received a message that the servers were either unavailable or busy. If you want to check out these tools, be patient, as there is a good chance as more people learn about their existence that they will be swamped with requests. Let's hope Google gets those additional servers up sooner than later. As to how ISPs will respond to their users being armed with information about how the ISPs shape traffic, that remains to be seen.