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Thursday, January 29, 2009
Google Tools Check Your ISP For Speed, Exposes ISP Traffic Shaping

Google and two nonprofit partners Wednesday launched the Measurement Lab or MLAB, a Web site that lets consumers test their Internet connections to reveal possible interference and traffic management by service providers.

Measurement Lab (M-Lab) is an open, distributed server platform for researchers to deploy Internet measurement tools. The goal of M-Lab is to advance network research and empower the public with useful information about their broadband connections, according to Google.

For example, when an Internet application doesn't work as expected, how can you tell whether the problem is caused by your broadband connection, the application or something else? MLabs' analytical tools could give professional network administrators or average Internet users an answer.

Internet service providers say they increasingly find it necessary to act as traffic cops on this stretch of the Internet to make sure that heavy users don't slow down their neighbors' connections. But the traffic management systems can have unintended consequences, and ISPs have been secretive about their workings for fear that subscribers will circumvent them. The Federal Communications Commission sanctioned Comcast last year for secretly stifling one particular form of traffic without telling subscribers.

That's where M-Lab comes in. It offers a tool called "Glasnost", which attempts to detect whether your Internet access provider is performing application-specific traffic shaping. Currently, you can test if your ISP is throttling or blocking BitTorrent. Tests for other applications will follow soon, according to Google.

The measurement server records the user's IP address, and all data packets received by the server from your computer or sent by the server to your computer. In addition, it monitors errors in the communication with the server and the throughput of the transfers for those communication "flows," and sends them to the server.

To use this tool visit the Glasnost site.

Another tool is designed to detect whether certain types of traffic are being slowed. The "Network Diagnostic Tool" (NDT) 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. While the diagnostic messages are most useful for expert users, they can also help novice users by allowing them to provide detailed trouble reports to their network administrator.

MLABs also includes some other tools that are "coming soon", according to Google.

"DiffProbe" will determine whether an ISP is giving some traffic a lower priority than other traffic. "NANO" will determine whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications, or destinations.

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