January 30, 2009
Google's Plan to Choke Throttlers
Google announced a technology initiative designed to inform Internet consumers if their Internet Service Provider (ISP) is intentionally blocking content or throttling back bandwidth on particular applications. Such practices violate traditions of Net Neutrality. In a post to the Google blog on January 28, Chief Evangelist (and co-inventor of TCP/IP) Vint Cerf outlined the company's plans to offer Internet users a way to measure their own connectivity. Coordinating efforts with researchers across 36 servers in 12 unique locations in the United States and Europe, Google will collect data about Internet connections and open that data to the public and other researchers. The project is being called M-Lab. While connection speed measurement tools already exist the data collected is not shared globally among researchers and limited resources make scalability impossible. With an international infrastructure and distribution platform as a foundation, Google's proposed effort is substantially larger. M-Lab is already operating though on a very small scale. Google has servers currently running three tools (with two more in development) that can help Internet users test their connections. The Network Diagnostic Tool (NDT) is a speed test that attempts to diagnose problems with an Internet connection. Recording users' IP addresses, upload/download speds, packet headers and TCP variables, the NDT is designed to show where network or configuration issues might impede Internet connectivity. The "Glasnost" tool, (loosely translated from Russian, Glasnost means, openness or transparency), is designed to detect traffic shaping performed by Internet Service Providers. The tool currently tests for blocks on BitTorrent services. The Network Path and Application Diagnosis tool checks on the most common problems associated with an end user's system which tend to be found in last-mile configuration. To perform its tests, the tool transfers information between a user's computer and a server to gather detailed information on what happens as that data moves from place to place. Two other tools are in development. The first, DiffProbe checks to see if an ISP lowers the priority of certain types of web traffic thus providing the end-user an inferior level of service. An example might be an ISP which offers VOIP services and cuts back bandwidth when a consumer uses Skype. The second, NANO is designed to detect if an ISP is purposefully degrading the performance of user groups, applications or web sites. An example of this would be an ISP cutting or degrading the speed of Internet transmissions from a group with opposing political views or which produces a competing commercial product. The introduction of M-Labs puts pressure on Internet Service Providers to comply with the tradition of Net Neutrality by giving consumers a means of measuring their ISP's behaviors. In his post on the Google blog, Mr. Cerf wrote,
At Google, we care deeply about sustaining the Internet as an open platform for consumer choice and innovation. No matter your views on net neutrality and ISP network management practices, everyone can agree that Internet users deserve to be well-informed about what they're getting when they sign up for broadband, and good data is the bedrock of sound policy. Transparency has always been crucial to the success of the Internet, and, by advancing network research in this area, M-Lab aims to help sustain a healthy, innovative InternetVint Cerf will be a keynote speaker at the upcoming Search Marketing Expo Conference (SMX West) in Santa Clara (Feb 10 - 12). Mr. Cerf appears at 9:00am on Wednesday Feb. 11.