Experimental broadband management app could keep ISPs honest

A browser-based app developed by Georgia Tech researchers is designed to help Internet users make better use of their bandwidth – and to make sure ISPs are holding up their end of the bandwidth bargain.

The Kermit app, which is being shown off Wednesday at the CHI 2011 Conference on Human Factors in Computing in Vancouver  (and below in a YouTube video), emerges at a time when service providers are starting to place bandwidth caps not just on wireless services, but on wireline services, too. AT&T, for example, is putting such caps in place this month for its DSL and U-verse customers. At least initially, such caps aren't expected to affect all but the very heaviest bandwidth users.

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Nevertheless, Internet users could still stand to keep a closer eye on whether their ISPs are providing the speeds and bandwidth promised, as service providers themselves have been slow to provide easy-to-use monitoring tools.

"It's widely recognized now, and the FCC is [aware], that people are not getting the speeds that are sometimes advertised," said Kermit team member Beki Grinter, an associate professor in Georgia Tech's School of Interactive Computing, in a statement.  "What Kermit does is it makes that very visible to people in their homes."

Kermit is designed to be easy enough for even the technologically unsavvy to use, according to Georgia Tech researchers who tested the app in 10 households. The app gives users a real-time view of all their Internet-connected home devices – computers, game consoles, TVs, etc. – and allows them to throttle speed and bandwidth for specific devices. One example given: A work-at-home wife limited her husband's computer bandwidth to ensure she had enough to do her job.

Kermit can also be used to provide historical data, allowing users to spot usage trends.

Parents testing the app said they could foresee using it to cut off Xbox Internet access at midnight for a would-be all night gaming teenager. The Kermit team says it will explore allowing such control in future versions.

The app is not publicly available, but the researchers are collecting input for future testing and possible commercialization, according to Georgia Tech.

The Kermit project is described in greater detail in a paper titled "Why is My Internet Slow?: Making Network Speed Visible".

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