Google has begun offering tools to expose Internet service providers (ISPs) that choke traffic or shift users into slow lanes while allowing others to zip along at high speeds. The online search and advertising king is an unabashed champion of “net neutrality” in which all Internet traffic is treated equally instead of letting service providers give preferential treatment to privileged clients.
“At Google, we care deeply about sustaining the Internet as an open platform for consumer choice and innovation,” Google chief evangelist Vint Cerf and principal engineer Stephen Stuart wrote in an online posting. “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.”
Google worked with New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, and academic researchers to create an online Measurement Lab (M-Lab) that researchers can use to detect Internet traffic manipulation. “When an Internet application doesn’t work as expected or your connection seems flaky, how can you tell whether there is a problem caused by your broadband ISP, the application, your PC, or something else?” Cerf wrote. “It can be difficult for experts, let alone average Internet users, to address this sort of question today.”
M-Lab went online Wednesday with three diagnostic tools running on computer servers near Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. The tools are available to help users “diagnose common problems that might impair their broadband speed, as well as determine whether BitTorrent is being blocked or throttled by their ISPs,” according to Cerf, a computer scientist often called “father of the Internet.” ISPs such as US behemoth Comcast have sparked controversy by clandestinely throttling some traffic, such as peer-to-peer file sharing.
ISPs argue that such measures are necessary to manage growing congestion on the Internet highway. Google has been among those advocating against fettering online traffic, saying that doing so stifles Internet innovation and growth. M-Lab is in a nascent phase and through the year Google will add servers in a dozen locations in Europe and the United States. More diagnostic tools will be added and results made public, according to Google. “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,” Cerf wrote.