The Net Neutrality Battlefield

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-01-28 Print this article Print

ISPs occasionally run afoul of network neutrality, and legislators in Washington are pushing for network neutrality controls as part of the $6 billion broadband piece of the U.S. House's overall $825 billion economic stimulus package.

In summer of 2008, the Federal Communications Commission said Comcast was violating the FCC's Internet policy by blocking peer-to-peer traffic via BitTorrent. The agency also cracked down on Comcast for misleading consumers about its P2P policy.

M-Lab is Google's way of fighting back against such transgressions. M-Lab is currently hosting three measurement tools running on servers near Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters to help users diagnose Internet issues.

The tools are: a Network Diagnostic Tool that lets users test their connection speeds and diagnose connectivity problems; Glasnost, seemingly a response to the Comcast imbroglio, to let users see whether BitTorrent is being blocked or throttled; and Network Path and Application Diagnosis, which detects problems that affect last-mile broadband networks.

M-Lab fully discloses what data these tools collect, a crucial measure for Google, which is accused more and more of privacy infringement.

The Network Diagnostic Tool and Network Path and Application Diagnosis collect test results and record the user's IP address, upload/download speed, packet headers and TCP variables of the test. Glasnost records the user's IP address and all data packets received by the server from the user's computer or sent by the server to the user's computer.

Two more tools are currently in the works. DiffProbe determines whether an ISP is giving some traffic a lower priority than other traffic. NANO determines whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications or destinations.

Both seemed designed to help researchers detect transgressions such as the one Comcast was found to have perpetrated when it blocked BitTorrent. More on TechMeme here.


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