updated 07:15 pm EST, Wed January 28, 2009
Google M Lab
Google has collaborated with the Open Technology Institute and PlanetLab to develop a project, Measurement Lab (M-Lab), that intends to allow Internet users determine if their service provider is blocking or throttling access to online content. The search giant will establish 36 servers in 12 locations that researchers will be able to use for gathering data for analysis. "When an Internet application doesn't work as expected or your connection seems flaky, how can you tell whether there is a problem caused by your broadband ISP, the application, your PC, or something else?" said Vint Cerf, chief Internet guru at Google.
Although tools already exist for determining the same information, M-Lab is designed to offer a wider distribution of servers with sufficient connectivity for enhancing the accuracy of the measurements. The open platform will also be made publicly available for further collaboration.
The announcement adds fuel to the net neutrality debate, as some service providers have pushed for more control over bandwidth and access. Cable Internet provider Cox Communications on Wednesday announced plans to prioritize "time-sensitive" material including games, streaming or VoIP. Uploads, peer-to-peer sharing and newsgroups would have limited bandwidth if the local network is congested or at risk of failing.
The FCC could view the transition as a violation of net neutrality rulings designed to discourage discrimination between various types of traffic. The commission ruled against Comcast for breaking connections between users that were transferring data using BitTorrent clients. The same company is currently under investigation for allegedly interfering with third-party VoIP services while favoring its own phone service.
"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," Cerf said. [via Reuters]