Google, partners release net neutrality tools

Google and partners unveil a set of Internet performance measurement tools.

Google and a group of partners have released a set of tools designed to help broadband customers and researchers measure performance of Internet connections.

The set of tools, at MeasurementLab.net, includes a network diagnostic tool, a network path diagnostic tool and a tool to measure whether the user's broadband provider is slowing BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P-to-P) traffic. Coming soon to the M-Lab applications is a tool to determine whether a broadband provider is giving some traffic a lower priority than other traffic, and a tool to determine whether a provider is degrading certain users or applications.

"Transparency is our goal," said Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist at Google and a co-developer of TCP/IP. "Our intent is to make more [information] visible for all who are interested in the way the network is functioning at all layers."

The tools will not only allow broadband customers to test their Internet connections, but also allow security and other researchers to work on ways to improve the Internet, Cerf said. Current Internet performance tools "are geeky to the extreme," he said during a Washington, D.C., forum on the M-Lab tools.

The M-Lab project, launched Wednesday, comes after controversy over network management practices by Comcast and other broadband providers. Earlier this month, two officials at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission questioned why Comcast, the largest cable modem provider in the U.S., was exempting its own VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) from traffic congestion slowdowns, but not offering the same protections to competing VoIP services.

The FCC letter to Comcast came after commissioners ruled in August that the broadband provider's decision to slow some P-to-P traffic violated the agency's network neutrality rules prohibiting broadband providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic or applications. News reports in late 2007 unveiled Comcast's practice of slowing some BitTorrent traffic. Comcast later said it was slowing traffic only at times of peak congestion, but the FCC and other groups disputed that the traffic management was limited.

Comcast declined to comment on the M-Labs effort.

The set of tools will allow broadband customers to measure their providers' performance, said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation, a think tank involved in the M-Lab project. Consumers "deserve to be well-informed" about their broadband performance, he said.

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