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Contest shines light on broadband providers' tactics

The FCC awarded three teams for work that will help users see what they are actually getting in their broadband service

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has given awards to three computer science teams for application development or research that helps broadband customers measure the speed and performance of their service.

Teams from the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI), the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan and Microsoft Research won the FCC's Open Internet Challenge, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski announced Friday. The FCC announced the competition for apps and research to protect net neutrality in December.

"This challenge was designed to provide the public -- researchers, policymakers, consumers and the Internet community -- with useful tools and information on the Internet, data that would help consumers make informed choices in picking broadband service," Genachowski said during a press conference. "Shining a light on network management practices will ... help deter improper conduct, helping to ensure that consumers and the marketplace pick winners and losers online and that websites or applications aren't improperly blocked or slowed."

The team from the University of Michigan and Microsoft Research won the FCC's award for best open Internet app. The team developed MobiPerf, a tool for measuring the performance of mobile broadband networks. MobiPerf runs on Android, iOS and Windows Mobile devices, and it measures mobile broadband speeds, port blocking by mobile networks and several other factors affecting mobile broadband performance.

The teams from ICSI and the Georgia Institute of Technology were co-winners of the FCC's open Internet research award.

The team from Georgia's computer science school proposed methods for broadband users to detect network management by broadband providers. The team's paper proposed an active probing method called "differential probing" or DiffProbe, to detect whether a broadband provider is delaying some of its customers' traffic.

The paper also describes ShaperProbe, a tool that allows users to detect whether their providers are shaping traffic. ShaperProbe is an open-source tool available free.

The ICSI team's paper described Netalyzr, a network measurement and debugging service that evaluates the functionality provided by people's Internet connectivity. Netalyzr is a signed Java applet accessed through Web browsers and measures several network management practices. The team presented a study of 130,000 Netalyzr measurement sessions that the service recorded between June 2009 and September 2010.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is [email protected]


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