Google Launches Tools to Test for Bandwidth Throttling

Josh Catone
Josh Catone

measurementlab-logoGoogle today announced the launch of Measurement Lab (M-Lab), a joint project between the search engine, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, and academic researchers that aims to create an open platform for researchers to develop and deploy Internet measurement tools. M-Lab will offers tools that allow users to determine what is causing network slowdowns, if their connection is being throttled by their ISP, and allow researchers to access and share that information.

In other words, this is Google’s latest salvo in their campaign for network neutrality.

“At Google, we care deeply about sustaining the Internet as an open platform for consumer choice and innovation. 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,” writes Google Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf and engineer Stephen Stuart in a blog post today. “Transparency has always been crucial to the success of the Internet, and, by advancing network research in this area, M-Lab aims to help sustain a healthy, innovative Internet.”

Google has long been an advocate of network neutrality in the United States, and Cerf is on record as saying that letting ISPs throttle certain types of bandwidth would “fundamentally undermine the principles that have made the Internet such a success.” The M-Lab tools will allow users to determine for themselves if their network connectivity issues are a result of ISP level throttling, or something more benign.

Measurement Lab is launching with three tools that “help users attempt to diagnose common problems that might impair their broadband speed, as well as determine whether BitTorrent is being blocked or throttled by their ISPs.” The tools are running on servers at Google’s headquarters, and Google plans to donate 36 servers in 12 locations over the course of the next few months to run M-Lab applications.

A problem for researchers in the past as far as deploying tools like these, says Google, is that they lacked access to servers with ample bandwidth in distributed locations. Along with providing a solution to that problem, M-Lab also offers ways for researchers to share their findings.

Google’s announcement of M-Lab comes as net neutrality is in the news again today, thanks to an announcement from Cox Communications — American’s third largest cable provider — that it plans to begin testing a new method of “congestion management” in February that would throttle network traffic based on perceived time-sensitivity.