Rogers’ BitTorrent Throttling Experiment Goes Horribly Wrong

Rogers, one of Canada's largest Internet providers, has upset many customers with a recent change in their network management systems. Since mid-September both up and downstream BitTorrent traffic has been severely degraded in certain areas, which goes against the company's network management policy. In addition, the new throttling technology has also slowed down non-P2P traffic in many cases.

rogers throttleIn Canada, all large ISPs have admitted to slowing down BitTorrent traffic. Net Neutrality is far away in Canada, but at least the Internet providers are forced by the Canadian Radio, Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to be open about it, and that includes Rogers.

Rogers Communications claims it has to throttle P2P users to prevent their network from becoming “the world’s buffet,” as they like to call it. Not only does this affect their network, their bandwidth bills have also increased due to the growing popularity of BitTorrent and other filesharing networks.

In its network management policy Rogers details how it actively slows down consumer traffic. The company claims to target only downstream P2P traffic although we’ll later show that this is incorrect. For Hi Speed Internet customers, “the maximum upload speed for P2P file sharing traffic is 80 kbps at all times” but “there are no limits on download speed for any application or protocol,” the ISP writes.

This is just the theory though. In practice many Rogers customers have reported something entirely different. Although connection and speed issues often happen with various ISPs, an avalanche of complaints from Rogers’ customers over the past two months indicated that something had gone seriously wrong.

Starting at the end of September 2010, Rogers customers began noticing severe throttling of downstream P2P and non-P2P traffic. It was clear that something had changed, but none of the customers were made aware of these changes, and neither were many of the support employees.

The effects are nontheless severe and widespread, and at the DSLreports forums several threads were started by dissatisfied customers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). It is reported that download speeds for both P2P and regular traffic has dropped, and some customers have issues while browsing the web, gaming and streaming content from Netflix and other services.

“Many of Rogers’ Canadian customers have reported substantial degradations in downstream speeds; whereas before September they were downloading at several Mb/s they are now reduced to a few hundred KB/s or less,” Christopher Parsons, PhD Candidate at the University of Victoria and lead researcher for Deep Packet Inspection Canada told TorrentFreak.

“I’ve contacted various colleagues around Canada and they have provided confirmation of what is being written by Rogers customers in the DSLreports forums.” Parsons wrote an elaborate blog post on the issue, which seems to show that the problems trace back to the new network management system implemented by Rogers.

Today, almost three months later, the issues don’t seem to be fully resolved yet, as more complaints keep trickling in every day. Dozens of customers state in blog and forum posts that they’ve complained to Rogers bitterly, and some have even switched to another ISP as a result of the issues.

At Rogers, things are awkwardly silent while all this is unfolding. Thus far, the only public response from Rogers comes from a forum post by Keith McArthur, their senior director of social media and digital communications.

“As some of you are aware, Rogers recently made some upgrades to our network management systems that had the unintended effect of impacting non-p2p file sharing traffic under a specific combination of conditions,” McArthur writes.

“Our network engineering team is working on the best way to address this issue as quickly as possible. However, I’m not able to provide any updates at this time about when this will be fixed. Our network management policy remains unchanged. We are working hard to ensure that there are no gaps between our policy and the technology that enables that policy.”

This response dates back to the end of October, but even today many customers are still reporting that their download speeds are severely degraded. One may even conclude that the new system is meant to slow down downstream traffic as well, contrary to what’s stated in the Network Management policy.

This does indeed seem to be the case.

Rogers’ social media director kept his public appearance limited to one post, and eventually also stopped responding to individual customers who asked for help. In a response, a Rogers customer contacted the CRTC instead, and the result is interesting to say the least.

Initially Rogers’ legal counsel Ken Thompson tried to cover up the issue, by stating that they never received a single complaint about the issue, but he did confirm to the CRTC that downstream traffic is now also being throttled. So, aside from the collateral damage the new network management system caused, Rogers has secretly started to throttle P2P download traffic.

Not a big deal according to Rogers’ lawyer, a simple change in the policy will quickly resolve the issue.

“We have determined our best response to this situation will be to update our ITMP disclosure on our website to reflect this new information. We are in the process of making those changes to our website and will provide you with the modified ITMP [traffic management policy] disclosure as soon as it has received approval by Rogers’ management,” he wrote to the CRTC.

So there we have it, instead of honestly answering customers who’ve complained about being throttled for months, Rogers simply changes their policy.

Thus far no changes have been made, but this will probably happen in the coming days or weeks. Rogers customers who want to enjoy P2P at full speeds have no other option than to switch to a new ISP or sign up with a VPN service.

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