Google Introduces Metrics for ISP Services

January 29th, 2009 at 12:00 am

measurement lab

Internet Service Providers have it really great.  They say they provide a service of a gazillion bps and the consumers pay for the service without any concrete or reliable way of measuring how much of the promised service they are getting.  For example, the average user who watches videos online, downloads emails, buys music on iTunes, downloads movies on uTorrent and social networks on facebook and myspace has no idea if the ISP is interfering with the 2MBps plan he’s paying for.  For that user, he wouldn’t know the difference if the ISP is only allotting him 1.5 or 1 MBps.

So it comes down to the issue of net neutrality.  ISP’s are admittedly or not interfering with their subscribers broadband connections.  Not all the time but sometimes ISP’s "throttle" some applications like torrents so that that user won’t take up too much broadband and bring down the network.  The issue there is,  if the consumer is paying for it, why can’t he use it as he pleases?  Of course most of the time, the ISP won’t say that they did throttle the application and simply show the consumer a speed meter that presumably measures the speed of his broadband.

Google wants to stop this.  They believe that the internet should be sustained as an open platform for consumer choice and innovation.  Which is why they came up with Measurement Lab.

Today Google, the New America Foundation‘s Open Technology Institute, the PlanetLab Consortium, and academic researchers are taking the wraps off of Measurement Lab (M-Lab), an open platform that researchers can use to deploy Internet measurement tools.

Researchers are already developing tools that allow users to, among other things, measure the speed of their connection, run diagnostics, and attempt to discern if their ISP is blocking or throttling particular applications. [Official Google Blog]

However, M-Lab is still in its infancy.  As of now, they only have three tools running on servers near Google’s headquarters are available to 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. These tools were created by the individual researchers who helped found M-Lab. By running these tools, users will get information about their connection and provide researchers with valuable aggregate data.

M-Lab is designed to be a community-based effort and everybody’s invited.  For now however, the service is limited and unreliable.  Nonetheless, Google’s initiative to keep the internet open and fair is commendable.