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Is your ISP Throttling Your Internet Service?

Learn about these new tools to measure boradband network performance.

Is the speed of your company's Internet connection being throttled back by your ISP? Unless you're using a cable modem for your business Internet connection--and have Comcast or Cox as the provider--probably not. But, wouldn't you like to know, just to be sure?

By offering new tools to measure broadband network performance, developers at a Google-backed venture called Measurement Lab are putting pressure on all ISPs to stop limiting customer bandwidth, or at least to not do it in secret.

While I don't know of any small businesses that have run into throttling issues--in which your ISP slows your Internet traffic because they think you're overusing bandwidth--it is surely possible. Particularly if you actually do occasionally download large files in the course of your daily business.

If it's happening, a new tool called Glasnost will ferret it out. Should you find you're being throttled, please drop me a note and I'll investigate. It's possible, even likely, that there is a whole lot more of this going on than people think.

The ISPs' real targets aren't businesses, but people playing bandwidth-intensive games and doing huge uploads/downloads using things like BitTorrent. Some ISPs appear to be slowing these bandwidth hogs' traffic to protect the network for everyone else. The ISPs don't like to talk about throttling, so we aren't sure how common it is or what the thresholds are for setting it off.

Net Transparency
I think the ISPs ought to be up-front about what they are doing--surely a new experience for telcos and cable providers--and offer customers a way to buy the bandwidth they need for a reasonable price. Customers should be told if their traffic is being throttled and given options to have the block removed.

Business users probably don't run into bandwidth throttling very often. Most small businesses don't generate all that much Internet traffic and, when we do, it is likely directed at a hosted Web or commerce site, not our small office network.

However, as businesses embrace VOIP telephony, video conferencing, and other bandwidth hungry apps, the possibility of finding a governor placed on your traffic might increase. Especially if you're not purchasing a premium business package from your ISP.

For example, many small businesses have fairly large numbers of people sharing what is probably a too-limited Internet pipeline. If all these folks pick up their VOIP handsets or join a two-way video conference at once, there could be trouble.

For those reasons, it's probably a good idea for small businesses to run Glasnost at least occasionally, especially during peak network loading.

It isn't clear to me how serious a throttling problem that home-based workers face, except that they seem more likely to be dealing with the ISPs associated with throttling.

I don't have a problem with ISPs charging bandwidth hogs for the privilege. But, I think it should be done in the open based on usage limits that are published. Usage data, likewise, needs to be available to customers in real time so they can either be aware some of their traffic is being blocked or reduce their usage before throttling occurs.

After 25 years covering technology, David Coursey is, at different times during the day, a writer, radio talk show host, animal rescue volunteer, ham radio operator, and small business owner. Write him at david@coursey.com .

David Coursey has been writing about technology products and companies for more than 25 years. He tweets as @techinciter and may be contacted via his web site.

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