Cox Plans to Throttle, mLabs to the Rescue

Today we have some bad and good news. First the bad news: Cox Communications announced that it has a new way to manage it's network traffic; the problem is, Cox decides which packets go ahead of others. The story says Cox will prioritize the traffic it deems to be "time-intensive, like Web pages, streaming video and online games." Other services may be slowed: FTP, network storage, software updates, P2P, and Usenet. It's been said that Cox used to use the same technology that Comcast did for its throttling of BitTorrent traffic, but apparently they're moving on to something new (but not improved).

Not only does Cox apparently not know enough to hold back since net neutrality is still such a heated debate in DC, it apparently isn't aware of current events like the inauguration -- an event broadcast over the Internet by CNN using P2P technology. It's almost like these cable networks can't help themselves but to step in it.

PK has said that the FCC should take a close look and demand more details from Cox before they start throttling their subscribers' traffic based on their own whim. Users should be in control of priority of their Internet traffic, not the Cox or any other ISP.

mLab: Tools to Take Back the Internet

The good news was announced this afternoon over at New America Foundation, where a group announced Measurement Lab, or mLab. mLab will act as place on the web where users can find tools to test their Internet connections, an open platform for researchers' network measurement tools, as well as a place to aggregate data from Internet subscribers about their connections.

These tools are and will be open source which will let others develop new and more useful ways to use them. Currently, they are offering a set of three browser-based applications to help you diagnose problems limiting the speed of your network connection, to test whether BitTorrent is being blocked, and check common problems that "impact the last-mile of broadband networks."

Still on deck are two more applications that should come in handy for Cox subscribers, to determine whether an ISP preferring some traffic over other traffic or if the ISP is zeroing in on subsets of users, applications, or destinations.

At the kick-off, Sascha Meinrath of New America Foundation stressed that the current tool set is just the beginning and that new ones would be developed. Vint Cerf talked about how information about individual's network connections could be useful, not just as a current snapshot, but also long term to see how networks change and evolve. He also emphasized that the tools are useful not just for "broadband" connections, but also to test performance of unwired narrow-band GPRS and high-latency "interstellar networks." Ed Felton said that data derived from using the tools could be used to support or counter specific policies, so both sides of the net neutrality debate should support the development and use of the mLab tools.

Connecting the Nodes

So, we know that starting Feb. 9, Cox is going to be actively discriminating on it's network, preferring some subscribers' traffic over others. Would it be useful for Cox subscribers in Kansas and Arkansas to start using the mLab tools to build a record of their traffic before Cox's network management begins? What are the other tools that are needed to make this process as easy as possible for use by the average person? What can we do to help make this happen? How can you help?

Check out mLab's tools sections to assess the condition of your own connection, and if you're a developer or researcher, get involved now!

And congrats to the mLabs crew who have taken action to put together this important and timely initiative!

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