Google tool unmasks ISP throttling

29 Jan 2009

Google is hardly the poster child for empowering users to free themselves from the control of internet firms, but a new tool called M-Lab (Measurement Lab), announced today in association with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and the PlanetLab Consortium, will detect if ISPs are engaging in throttling or blocking particular applications.

You pay for an internet connection like any other service, right? What you see is what you get? Not exactly. Internet service providers (ISPs) have been known to throttle, or limit, the amount of data transmitted from certain applications, most often peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing sites and BitTorrent services.

Isn’t this a bit like allowing all vehicles on a motorway but throwing banana skins in the path of tractors because their tyres cause much more wear and tear to the road surface, and thus expense?

Detecting the presence of throttling or blocking of applications is a tricky science, and researchers developing these tools have been lacking the ability to share data, as well as ‘widely-distributed servers with ample connectivity’ says Google.

M-Lab, as an open-source platform, is hoping to address this, and collaboration from researchers has already yielded three tools, which are available for the public to download and use today.

Glasnost is a tool that can test if your ISP is throttling or blocking BitTorrent specifically. It does this by testing for throttling of all BitTorrent traffic, as well as traffic at well-known BitTorrent ports.

The other tools are for overall network diagnostics and for problems that affect last-mile broadband networks.

By Marie Boran