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ISP watchers have launched a bid to get to the bottom of what's going on with UK broadband by recruiting people to install specially-adapted network gear on their line, to collect reams of independent performance data.

The initiative to improve the transparency of ISP packages is being led by Samknows.com. The site is aiming to attract 200 volunteers who'll be sent a free tweaked Linksys router that will measure and report download speeds for HTTP and non-HTTP traffic, latency, packet loss, DNS response, and website loading times.

It comes as consumer anger against ISPs over tricksy marketing campaigns, opaque traffic management policies and low investment in infrastrucure continues to ferment.

Software based speed testers are already widely available, but it's hoped that a single, controllable and statistically sampled network will act as a high quality reference dataset. A hardware system allows for numerous other checks as well as 24-hour reporting.

It's hoped that the system will reveal exactly who is shaping what traffic, when and how. More data is needed to confirm the patterns, but very early data from a very small sample we've seen suggests some of the UK's largest ISPs might face some uncomfortable questions.

Sam Crawford, the man behind Samknows.com, said: "Is it right for us to expect a free broadband connection to perform as well as a £25 per month one?

"That's just the problem. We simply do not know how well one performs with respect to the other. All we have is anecdotal evidence from consumers, combined with some speed tester results. These have their place, granted, but it's hardly the basis to make informed statistical comparisons."

He promised that it was not part of a plan to launch yet another commercial broadband comparison site. Such operations make their money by referring users the providers they recommend. The boxes are being funded by Samknows.com's main business to business data operations and an investment from LX Capital Ltd.

There's a stack more info in the Samknows FAQ here. The ambition is to eventually have several thousand boxes reporting the state of the UK's broadband networks. ®

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