James Middleton

January 30, 2009

2 Min Read
Google unveils net neutrality testing platform

One of the biggest proponents of Network Neutrality, Google, has come up with a way of measuring the ‘openness’ of communications networks, in a bid to help policy makers and regulators make more informed decisions.

The concept of net neutrality is a hotly debated and controversial issue, with the content and application providers of the internet world accusing broadband network operators of acting as gatekeepers, preventing consumers from enjoying the full range of innovation and choice available through the open internet.

To date, the issue has only been seriously contested in the US, where a union of web companies including YouTube, Skype, Google and eBay have been lobbying the US communications regulator to take a stronger role in promoting a neutral and open internet. With the inauguration of Barack Obama as president it looks like that the net neutrality proposal might get a better hearing. Obama is a known supporter of net neutrality, a stance which may have broad ramifications for both fixed and mobile operators that provide internet access and data services. In an appearance on MTV during his presidential campaign in 2007, Obama pledged to appoint only supporters of net neutrality as commissioners at the FCC.

This week, in conjunction with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and the PlanetLab Consortium, Google launched the Measurement Lab (M-Lab), with the goal of “advancing network research and empowering the public with useful information about their broadband connections. By enhancing internet transparency, M-Lab helps sustain a healthy, innovative internet,” the company said.

The idea, it seems, is to out those providers that are throttling certain internet applications or running a ‘two tiered’ network model, where certain connections are relegated to the internet slow lane. Of course, there are critics of net neutrality that might argue this practice is already common on a global scale.

The first tools to become available from M-Lab are: a Network Diagnostic Tool, which allows users to test and diagnose connection speeds; Glasnost, which will tell users if BitTorrent is being blocked or throttled; and Network Path and Application Diagnosis, which can diagnose common problems that impact last-mile broadband networks.

In the future, M-Lab will also introduce: DiffProbe, which determines whether an ISP is giving some traffic a lower priority than other traffic; and NANO, which determines whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications, or destinations.

About the Author(s)

James Middleton

James Middleton is managing editor of telecoms.com | Follow him @telecomsjames

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