Got the bandwidth you deserve? Ask Kermit

GEORGIA TECH (US) — As Internet service providers make the transition to usage-based pricing plans, a tool could help consumers ensure they’re getting their money’s worth.

Kermit is an easy-to-use application that allows users to monitor and control network usage within their home environment, including measuring the actual network speed made available by their Internet service providers (ISPs) and tracking bandwidth usage over time.

“I think it’s widely recognized now, and the FCC is [aware], that people are not getting the speeds that are sometimes advertised,” says developer Beki Grinter, an associate professor of computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “What Kermit does is it makes that very visible to people in their homes.”

Researchers presented Kermit last week at the CHI 2011 Conference on Human Factors in Computing, held in Vancouver.

Kermit works by showing the user a simple view of all the home’s devices connected to the Internet: computers, mobile devices, digital video recorders, game systems, or anything else that’s networked. Users can rename their devices, or label them with photos to show what they are.

At any moment, Kermit can not only show who’s using the Internet, whether through a desktop or mobile device, but it can also limit a device’s speed. The user can even limit or prioritize a specific machine’s traffic.

Kermit developer Marshini Chetty, a Ph.D. candidate at Georgia Tech, says tests with users showed that “even people who were not Internet gurus tried to do this.

“With one husband-and-wife couple, the wife actually limited her husband’s machine because she worked from home. Before, she wouldn’t have gone to the router Web interface to do that, but because Kermit made it easier for her, she was feeling more comfortable to do it. Of course, her husband didn’t really like that,” says Chetty.

In addition to providing real-time information, Kermit allows users to view historical data on their Internet connection such as how much bandwidth different machines use over time, making it easier to spot patterns

“After we gave them Kermit, they were able to see the speeds over time,” Chetty says. “So, by the end of the study, they started to question: ‘Am I getting what I paid for?’ Or they knew a little bit more about it and realized, yes, they were actually getting what they paid for. I think Kermit was successful in actually making them more informed about these issues, which is one of our goals.”

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