Zazzle Shop

Screen printing

Monday, January 19, 2009

A DIY Test For Your Broadband Provider’s Net Neutrality

By Christopher Rhoads

Worried that your broadband provider is slowing down your Web traffic?

If so, you might want to download the aptly named “Switzerland” — a tool that tests whether your Internet provider is violating the principles of so-called “network neutrality.”


Network neutrality, which prevents carriers from blocking traffic or manipulating the speeds of traffic from certain Web sites, became a hot-button issue several years ago when carriers suggested they should be allowed to charge content providers more for using faster lanes on their networks.

The issue resurfaced last summer when the FCC determined that Comcast had interfered with its subscribers’ use of a file-sharing technology, called BitTorrent, a free application used to distribute sometimes large software and media files. Comcast is contesting the ruling.

Net neutrality is likely to re-emerge in the coming months, as the incoming Congress considers expected legislation on the issue. At the moment, the FCC advocates only broad guidelines to “preserve and promote the open and interconneted nature of the public Internet.”

Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit in San Francisco that helped discover Comcast’s actions, decided it needed to help users detect similar violations.

“Congress may or may not decide to pass legislation on this,” said Peter Eckersley, a staff technologist with the EFF who designed Switzerland. “But we are going to need tools to know what’s going on and spot causes for concern on the network.”

EFF released Switzerland in August. The tool can be downloaded by users for free, and has been downloaded several thousands of times, according to Mr. Eckersley. It’s designed to detect when packets of Internet traffic have been modified or inserted into the network by service providers.

Still, in a hint of the debate to come, some contend such tools don’t detect anti-competitive practices that should also be included in any net neutrality legislation.

“It’s important to note that this tool tests for only ONE set of behaviors that are claimed by SOME people to be a violation of network neutrality,” wrote Brett Glass, a technology consultant, in a Web site comment on the EFF tool.