New Speed Test Tools from M-Lab Expose ISP Bandwidth Throttling Practices

In a recent article, we wrote about the “The White Lies ISPs tell about their bandwidth speeds“.  We even hinted at how they (your ISP)  might be inclined to give preferential treatment to normal speed test sites.  Well, now there is a speed test site from M-Lab that goes beyond simple speed tests. M-lab gives the consumer sophisticated results and exposes any tricks your ISP might be up to.

Features provided include:

  • Network Diagnostic Tool – Test your connection speed and receive sophisticated diagnosis of problems limiting speed.
  • Glasnost – Test whether BitTorrent is being blocked or throttled.
  • Network Path and Application Diagnosis – Diagnose common problems that impact last-mile broadband networks.
  • DiffProbe (coming soon) – Determine whether an ISP is giving some traffic a lower priority than other traffic.
  • NANO (coming soon) – Determine whether an ISP is degrading the performance of a certain subset of users, applications, or destinations.

Click here to learn more about M-Lab.

Related article on how to determine your true video speed over the Internet.

More on Deep Packet Inspection and the NebuAd case

By Art Reisman

CTO of APconnections, makers of the plug-and-play bandwidth control and traffic shaping appliance NetEqualizer

Art Reisman CTO

Editors note:

This  latest article published in DSL reports reminds me of the time  where a bunch of friends (not me),  are smoking a joint in a car when the police pull them over, and the guy holding the joint takes the fall for everybody.  I don’t want to see any of these ISPs get hammered as I am sure they are good companies.

It seems like this case should be easily settled.  Even if privacy laws were viloated , the damage was perhaps a few unwanted AD’s that popped up on a browser, not some form of extortion of private records. In any case, the message should be clear to any ISP, don’t implement DPI of any kind to be safe.  And yet, for every NebuAd privacy lawsuit case article I come across , I must see at least two or three press releases from vendors announcing major deals with  for DPI equipment ?

FUll Original article link from DSL reports

ISPs Play Dumb In NebuAD Lawsuit
Claim they were ‘passive participants’ in user data sales…
08:54AM Thursday Feb 05 2009 by Karl Bode
tags: legal · business · privacy · consumers · Embarq · CableOne · Knology
Tipped by funchords See Profile

The broadband providers argue that they can’t be sued for violating federal or state privacy laws if they didn’t intercept any subscribers. In court papers filed late last week, they argue that NebuAd alone allegedly intercepted traffic, while they were merely passive participants in the plan.

By “passive participants,” they mean they took (or planned to take) money from NebuAD in exchange for allowing NebuAD to place deep packet inspection hardware on their networks. That hardware collected all browsing activity for all users, including what pages were visited, and how long each user stayed there. It’s true many of the the carriers were rather passive in failing to inform customers these trials were occurring — several simply tried to slip this through fine print in their terms of service or acceptable use policies.

Four Reasons Why Peer-to-Peer File Sharing Is Declining in 2009

By Art Reisman

CTO of APconnections, makers of the plug-and-play bandwidth control and traffic shaping appliance NetEqualizer

Art Reisman CTO

I recently returned from a regional NetEqualizer tech seminar with attendees from Western Michigan University, Eastern Michigan University and a few regional ISPs.  While having a live look at Eastern Michigan’s p2p footprint, I remarked that it was way down from what we had been seeing in 2007 and 2008.  The consensus from everybody in the room was that p2p usage is waning. Obviously this is not a wide data base to draw a conclusion from, but we have seen the same trend at many of our customer installs (3 or 4 a week), so I don’t think it is a fluke. It is kind of ironic, with all the controversy around Net Neutrality and Bit-torrent blocking,  that the problem seems to be taking care of itself.

So, what are the reasons behind the decline? In our opinion, there are several reasons:

1) Legal Itunes and other Mp3 downloads are the norm now. They are reasonably priced and well marketed. These downloads still take up bandwidth on the network, but do not clog access points with connections like torrents do.

2) Most music aficionados are well stocked with the classics (bootleg or not) by now and are only grabbing new tracks legally as they come out. The days of downloading an entire collection of music at once seem to be over. Fans have their foundation of digital music and are simply adding to it rather than building it up from nothing as they were several years ago.

3) The RIAA enforcement got its message out there. This, coupled with reason #1 above, pushed users to go legal.

4) Legal, free and unlimited. YouTube videos are more fun than slow music downloads and they’re free and legal. Plus, with the popularity of YouTube, more and more television networks have caught on and are putting their programs online.

Despite the decrease in p2p file sharing, ISPs are still experiencing more pressure on their networks than ever from Internet congestion. YouTube and NetFlix  are more than capable of filling in the void left by waning Bit-torrents.  So, don’t expect the controversy over traffic shaping and the use of bandwidth controllers to go away just yet.

Will the New UDP-based Bittorrent Thwart Traffic Shaping?

A customer asked us today how the newer Bittorrent methods using UDP will affect our ability to keep traffic in check. Here is our first take on this subject (See the related article “Bittorrent declares war on VoIP, gamers”).

The change from TCP to UDP transfer will have some effect on our methods to throttle bandwidth, however, at
the IP level there is no difference between the two and we have never based our shaping techniques on whether packets were UDP or TCP. The ISP mentioned in the  article mentioned above likely uses TCP window-size manipulation to slow downloads. You can’t do that with UDP, and I think that is what the author was eluding to.

The only difference for the NetEqualizer will be that UDP streams are harder to knock down, so it may require a tuning change if it is really an issue. By this, I mean we may have to hit them harder with more latency than our standard defaults when throttling packets.

On a side note, we are seeing some interesting trends with regard to Bittorrent.

When looking at our customer networks, we are just not seeing the same levels of Bittorrent that we have seen in the past  (circa 2006).

We believe the drop is due to a couple of factors:

1)  The RIAA’s enforcement — The high school and university crowd has been sufficiently spanked with copyright prosecutions. Most people now think twice about downloading copyrighted material.

2) Legal alternatives — The popularity of online purchase music  sites has replaced some of the illegal transfers (These also take up bandwidth, but they are not distributed by bittorrent).

The recent trends do not mean that bittorrent is going away, but rather that viable alternatives are emerging.  However, while legal distribution of content is here to stay and will likely grow over time, we do not expect an explosion that will completely replace bittorrent.

Comcast Should Adopt Behavior-Based Shaping to Stay out of Trouble

Well it finally happened…

As reported by the NY times :

SAN FRANCISCO — Comcast, the country’s largest residential Internet provider, said on Thursday that it would take a more equitable approach toward managing the ever-expanding flow of Web traffic on its network.

The cable company, based in Philadelphia, has been under relentless pressure from the Federal Communications Commission and public interest groups after media reports last year that it was blocking some Internet traffic of customers who used online software based on the popular peer-to-peer BitTorrent protocol.

As many of our ISP customers already know, we have been proselytizing that using layer-7 packet shaping is a slippery slope for any provider and it was only a matter of time before a large provider such as Comcast would be forced to change their ways.

Note: Layer-7 shaping involves looking at data to determine what it is. A technique commonly used to identify bit torrent traffic.

The NetEqualizer methodology for application shaping has been agnostic with respect to type of data for quite some time. We have shown through our thousands of customers that you can effectively control and give priority to Internet traffic based on behavior. We did not feel comfortable with our layer-7 application shaping techniques and hence we ceased to support that methodology almost two years ago. We now manage traffic as a resource much the same way a municipality would/should ration water if there was a shortage.

Customers understand this. For example, if you simply tell somebody they must share a resource such as water, the Internet, or butter (as in WWII), and that they may periodically get a reduced amount, they will likely agree that sharing the resource is better than one person getting all of the resource while others suffer. Well, that is exactly what a NetEqualizer does with Internet resources, albeit in real time. Internet bandwidth is very spiky. It comes and goes in milliseconds and there is no time for a quorum.

We’ll keep an eye on this for you. If you are interested in learning more about how our technology differs from application-based shaping, the following link is very useful:

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