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Google Announces M-Lab, a New Weapon in the Net Neutrality Fight

In mid-2008 I wrote that Google was working on a net neutrality detector. On Wednesday Google finally announced the previously unnamed initiative, now called Measurement Lab (M-Lab).

The project was announced in concert with the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, and academic researchers. M-Lab is an open platform that researchers can use to deploy Internet measurement tools.

In other words, M-Lab is aimed at helping researchers and end users determine if their connections are being throttled or otherwise interfered with. Part of the problem is having the necessary servers to run that test, and according to Google:

Over the course of early 2009, Google will provide researchers with 36 servers in 12 locations in the U.S. and Europe. All data collected via M-Lab will be made publicly available for other researchers to build on. M-Lab is intended to be a truly community-based effort, and we welcome the support of other companies, institutions, researchers, and users that want to provide servers, tools, or other resources that can help the platform flourish.
For now, Google is providing three tools. The first, Glasnost, developed by the Max Planck Institute, I've discussed before. It tests to see if your ISP is slowing BitTorrent connections.

The second, the Network Diagnostic Tool,
provides a sophisticated speed and diagnostic test. An NDT test reports more than just the upload and download speeds -- it also attempts to determine what, if any, problems limited these speeds, differentiating between computer configuration and network infrastructure problems.
The last, Network Path and Application Diagnosis (NPAD),
diagnoses some of the common problems effecting the last network mile and end-users' systems. These are the most common causes of all performance problems on wide area network paths.
Two additional tools are listed as "coming soon." DiffProbe attempts to detect if an Internet access provider is classifying certain kinds of traffic as "low priority." Sound familiar? Yes, much like the recent de-prioritization congestion "solutions" developed by Comcast and Cox.

NANO will require an application download and install, unlike the other tests. It will attempt to detect whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications, or destinations.

However, anything good is likely to be popular. Right now, all the tests are unusable, either because there are over 100 people waiting (NPAD), or the servers are just too busy (NDT). And naturally, at least for me, when I did reach the front of the line, the tests failed. Still a work in progress.

At least, however, when they do get things working properly, there will be a way for consumers to check up on what their ISPs are truly doing. Not that we'll have that much choice in terms of which ISP to sign up with, but at least we'll know what they're doing.


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