Google, partners release net neutrality tools

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

Some of the M-Lab tools have already been released, but participants in the project plan to further develop the tools and host them on servers around the world, added Sascha Meinrath, research director at the Wireless Future Program. All the M-Lab tools will be released under open-source licenses, allowing others to modify and improve them, he said.

People on either side of a debate on whether the FCC or U.S. Congress should develop network neutrality rules should welcome the tools, said Ed Felten, director of the Center for Information Policy and a computer science and public policy professor at Princeton University. It took months for policymakers to gather solid information on Comcast's network management practices, but net neutrality advocates can use the tools if they suspect broadband providers of interfering with traffic.

"If you believe that network neutrality government regulation is not needed, if you believe that the market will handle this ... then you should also welcome Measurement Labs," Felten said. "What you are appealing to is a process of public discussion ... in which consumers move to the ISP [Internet service provider] that gives them the best performance. It's a market that's facilitated by better information."

However, one ISP industry source, who asked not to be identified, questioned whether the tools would accurately point to the cause of broadband problems. Spyware or malware on computers can affect browser performance, and problems with the wider Internet can cause slowdowns, the source said.

The M-Labs partners seemed to bypass broadband providers when putting together their tools, the source added. "It may appear that issues that are occurring off an ISP's network may be the ISP's problem," the source said of the tools. "It's important for groups like this to collaborate, not only among themselves, but also with ISPs."

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