Speed Bumps or Fast Lanes

The Federal Communications Commission did more than just vote to protect equal access to Internet broadband speed when it moved forward with historic, wide-reaching Net Neutrality regulations in February. It codified regulations prohibiting ISPs from throttling connection speeds to certain services, like video websites, unless the companies behind those websites paid big bucks for smoother, faster connections. The FCC had to address throttling in part because Comcast has admitted extorting serious cash from Netflix several years ago, disrupting Netflix service unless that company paid what amounts to a toll for uninterrupted speeds.
Technically the FCC’s regs don’t go into effect until June 12—a date that could be postponed should a judge side with any of the 10 or more lawsuits filed against the FCC trying to prevent the new rules from applying—but are companies acting above board now, just in case?

Fight for the Future, an Internet freedom advocacy group, has developed a speed test to determine where a given ISP is messing with connectivity speeds.

Explaining the practice of throttling, Fight for the Future, an outspoken supporter of FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations, says ISP interconnection points are the “battleground” in which signal and connectivity problems take place. “These are the places where traffic requested by ISP customers crosses between the ISP’s network and another network on which content and application providers host their services.”

The test, available on Fight for the Future’s website, “measures whether interconnection points are experiencing problems. It runs speed measurements from your (the test user’s) ISP, across multiple interconnection points, thus detecting degraded performance.”

The group notes that results collected from the test contributes data to the public domain as to which ISPs are playing fair versus playing favorites. “The more data contributed, the better consumer advocates will be able to argue for strong Net Neutrality protections, and set strong standards for FCC enforcement to keep the Internet open and ISPs serving their customers.”

The test involves sending traffic to and from a device, like a laptop or smartphone, to an external measurement point within a website a typical user would access regularly, including entertainment websites, news sites, banks, etc.

The test, which can be run from locations other than the United States, monitors how long it takes to send and receive information from those external points, but the website notes that users outside the US might only involve one “step” or test.

If results are consistent, it suggests no throttling is taking place, but users are encouraged to run the test multiple times at various points of the day or week. “Large differences between test results indicate that there are issues between your ISP and at least one other network. One test won’t say anything conclusive (the problem could be local to your home connection, or a brief issue, etc.). But many tests taken together produce a lot of data, which over time begins to expose systemic problems and Net Neutrality violations,” the group says.

This test is different from other Internet speed tests in that it goes beyond a user’s home network to look for issues, and the information, collected by the test’s developer, Measurement Lab (M-Lab), is available for review by any interested person.

For what it’s worth, the aforementioned previously-guilty-of-throttling Comcast is my ISP (one I’m not too thrilled with for a variety of reasons, but that’s neither here nor there). I just ran the test (see here) and the results were rather promising: high marks for consistency of signal transmission, with the fastest test clocking in at 3.56 Mbps and a slowest test reading of 2.58 Mbps. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in a few weeks, depending on the action the courts might take before the June 12 implementation date.

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