WASHINGTON Jan 28 Google Inc (GOOG.O) on
Wednesday unveiled a plan aimed at eventually letting computer
users determine whether providers like Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O)
are inappropriately blocking or slowing their work online.
The scheme is the latest bid in the debate over network
neutrality, which pits content companies like Google against
some Internet service providers.
The ISPs say they need to take reasonable steps to manage
ever-growing traffic on their networks for the good of all
users. Content and applications companies fear the providers
have the power to discriminate, favoring some traffic over
Google will provide academic researchers with 36 servers in
12 locations in the United States and Europe to analyze data,
said its chief Internet guru, Vint Cerf, known as the "father
of the Internet."
"When an Internet application doesn't work as expected or
your connection seems flaky, how can you tell whether there is
a problem caused by your broadband ISP (Internet service
provider), the application, your PC (personal computer), or
something else?" Cerf wrote in a blog post.
The effort aims to uncover the problem for users, Cerf
said. Cerf is widely known for his work for the U.S. government
in designing the Internet protocol in the 1970s and 1980s.
In a precedent-setting decision last year, the five-member
Federal Communications Commission voted to uphold a complaint
accusing Comcast of violating the FCC's open-Internet
principles by blocking file-sharing services, such as those
that distribute video and television shows.
The case became a flash point in the Net neutrality debate.
Comcast is fighting the decision in the courts.
COX MAKES MOVE
In a move likely to fuel further debate, another large
cable company, Cox Communications [COXC.UL], said on Wednesday
it would begin testing a plan to give priority to
time-sensitive traffic like Web page views and streaming
Less time-sensitive traffic, such as file uploads and
peer-to-peer file sharing, could be delayed under the plan.
Cox said it will not discriminate based on owner or source
Still, Net neutrality advocates are wary of such policies.
"The lesson we learned from the Comcast case is that we
must be skeptical of any practice that comes between users and
the Internet," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press,
an advocacy group.
Researchers are already using tools to test connection
speed and determine if an ISP is blocking or throttling
particular applications. Google's effort will allow an
expansion of that effort.
"The goal is to let consumers see what's under the hood of
their Internet connection," said Sascha Meinrath, a wireless
expert at the New America Foundation, a think tank in which
Google CEO Eric Schmidt is board chairman. "Right now it's very
difficult now to make an informed consumer choice."
Google has a business interest in keeping users'
experiences fast and efficient, said Google policy analyst
Derek Slater, who reserved further judgment until he could
learn more about the new Cox policy.
"Our ability to innovate still depends on end users being
able to use their broadband connections to access Google. To
the extent that consumers are having problems doing that, that
can directly hurt Google."
(Reporting by Kim Dixon; editing by Richard Chang)
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