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. These tools generate and send some data back-and-forth between the user's computer and a server elsewhere on the Internet. Unfortunately, researchers lack widely-distributed servers with ample connectivity. This poses a barrier to the accuracy and scalability of these tools. Researchers also have trouble sharing data with one another.
M-Lab aims to address these problems. Over the course of early 2009, Google will provide researchers with 36 servers in 12 locations in the United States 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.
Today, M-Lab is at the beginning of its development. To start, 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. Like M-Lab itself these tools are still in development, and they will only support a limited number of simultaneous users at this initial stage.
I don't know about you, but I live and die by my Internet connection. No other tool is more indispensable to the work I do than the need to connect to the Internet. At home (which doubles as my office), I use Verizon's FiOS service. I have a 20/5 connection that covers my needs quite well. Most of the time, surfing is instantaneous. Every now and then, however, I sense that it isn't as fast as it should be. As Cerf and Stuart suggest, slow-downs could be coming from my ISP, my PC, or the software I am using. Knowing which would be valuable information for me to have, especially since my business depends on speedy Internet.
Businesses that have multitudes of employees relying on the Internet have an even larger vested interest in how well their connections perform. M-Labs isn't something the common man should expect to be able to use at a whim, but Google encourages researchers, companies, and institutions to get involved.
In the day and age where companies such as Comcast and Cox are concocting programs, schemes, and other ways to monitor and prioritize traffic, knowledge will be the most powerful weapon to hold.