Google Flips Off Cable ISPs With M Labs

    January 29, 2009
    WebProNews Staff

Suspect your ISP is interfering with the “unlimited” connection you contracted them for but don’t know how to prove it? Google can help.

In a bold, message-sending move to broadband providers (primarily cable), Google’s Vint Cerf unveiled Measurement Lab (M-Lab), an open platform people can use to test their Internet connections.

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Vint Cerf
“Father of the Internet”

“Over the course of early 2009,” Cerf wrote, “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.”

With the launch comes three diagnostic tools running on servers near Google’s HQ that allow researchers to test connection speed, identify last-mile broadband problems (neighborhood congestion/clogged tubes), or, via the curiously named Glasnost, test to see if the ISP is blocking or throttling BitTorrent connections.

The timing of the release is interesting. Tools to test connections aren’t new, but what’s been happening especially with cable ISPs recently is. Comcast received a largely symbolic slap on the wrist last year from an FCC without clear authority to penalize the company for interfering with peer-2-peer networks. (Congress never officially gave the FCC such authority, which is why Comcast is challenging the ruling in court.)

Also, the same day as Google’s M Lab unveiling, the third largest ISP, Cox Communications, announced its plans to slow down p2p, usenet, FTP users and “non-time-sensitive data packets” during times of network congestion.  Interfering with a customers’ connection to applications/content of their choice would be a clear Network Neutrality violation, if there were actually any laws against it.

Google appears to be gearing up for a data-rich presentation in support of Net Neutrality legislation. Such a project could allow Google to gather data to disprove opposition arguments that the net neutrality issue is a “solution in search of a problem.” Direct, intentional interference would be part of a proof of concept.

Internet service providers, especially cable, have argued they need to interfere with certain types of traffic—primarily video and p2p—to manage congestion on their networks. Such congestion problems—caused more by failure to upgrade networks than by increased video consumption—and increased government and public scrutiny led Time Warner and others to place caps on customer broadband use.