Lets ask ourselves: what is Net Neutrality really?

comments 17

As I mentioned a week or so ago I’ve been sitting on some posts that would have been timely had I not messed up my Marsedit settings. I figured this ones freshness date had passed but Yesterday’s post by Mark Evans but mostly the subsequent comments brings me back to the point I’d like to ask of Net Neutrality advocates. Just what are you talking about when you talk about net neutrality?read my slightly delayed (and verbose) post below.UPDATE: Mark Evans is using his connections to get a bit more out of Rogers. —I’ve managed networks in my time. Along with this comes managing users and you get several types of users, I usually drop them into three categories: smart ones, dumb ones and unreasonable ones.The smart ones who generally understand the lingo and while they may not always agree with you at least they understand what the hecks going on. Usually, they’ll get a better sense of what’s happening on the network by calling you up and asking a few questions – you know when they call you for support or help – they need it. They can still be a pain but its more of a conversation.The dumb ones ask silly questions on topics that usually have nothing to do with your network. They are the most time consuming but generally are also the first to admit they have no idea how computers (networks etc) work. They are good in that they’re honest in their need for help, they’re a pain because they need help more often then anyone else.The unreasonable users are my topic for today: These guys have a bastardized understanding of network management (and IT in general) and they’re the loud ones. In short they’ve got a problem they have a reasonable idea where it is. But they don’t have the depth of knowledge to have been given the full knowledge without a lot of frustrating discussion. Yet for them thats not good enough – they have a right to know these details… They are a nightmare to support.. and they will try and push at every turn.I think the majority of the blogoshpere today is filled with these guys. And their moan and groans about network neutrality betrays their lack of understanding in network management and packet shaping. I’d like to make clear in advance that I’m not saying the concerns are not justified: But Just when are those concerns justified? and when are they just noise is todays problem with Net Neutrality Advocacy.Network management (shaping included) is not where the fight is (or should be) to ensure network neutrality.. they aren’t the same thing and I’m worried this may hijack what should be a reasonable argument: industry, carriers and users should be able understand and come to reasonable accommodation on allowing services to be treated the same through network.While the tools can be misused lets concentrate on the current facts.For this I’m picking on Michael Geist – sorry! Not for any one reason just his post is both to the point, fair and accurate. Plus I believe he knows the majority of this and I’m pretty sure he’ll understand what I’m asking for.Lets look at the statements on michael geists blog (I’m an avid reader btw) I’ve cut them in here for your scrolling pleasure:

First, not only is BitTorrent legal in Canada, but a growing percentage of the file swapping on BitTorrent clients is authorized. This includes a substantial amount of open source software development, independent films, and other large files. By reducing the bandwidth available for this application, Rogers is impairing the ability for Canadian artists to distribute their work and hampering the development of open source software in Canada. Moreover, this could lead to a situation where Rogers’ own content is unfairly advantaged over competing content.

Here’s an example of a Lawyer with some technical background trying to explain why throttling is wrong. While Yes, Bittorrent is legal the end user has no expectation of receiving the file during a pre-determined time. Bittorrent(BT) is not a QoS (quality of service) dependent service.Allow me to explain: If I download a song from a canadian artist (Michael’s example) be it 10 minutes or 30 minutes the song will arrive. Though the transactions is slowed but not impaired, not blocked, it still comes through. Meaning if as a service provider I see that and file going down the pipe and I see a VoIP call which should get priority on my network? which one needs the bandwidth now, which one can wait? we know the answer, throttling services BT is a good example of maintaining the QoS for services that are dependent on the network maintaining a level of service. it allows you to physically shape traffic so that at certain times of days you get the joy of surfing unimpeded by you neighbour’s voracious appetite for Lost episodes. For Rogers this is a particularly concerning issues as neighbours are sharing the same pipe.While I agree with Michael that Rogers could be found to providing preferential service for its own products, at this point we don’t have any proof of that (I’ll come to skype in another post – somebody remind me.) People are Wrapping themselves in the flag of net neutrality because the network admins are using shaping to guarantee levels of service for certain services. This should not be what the movement should fight for.What net neutrality should mean is two of the same services get treated within the network equally. Or that a Vonage VoIP call is going to have the same service level guarantee throughout Rogers network to the Backbone as a Rogers VoIP call gets even though it will terminate internally. Thats all. How the carrier manages the network should not impede on this.That is net neutrality. If I’m mistaken then I believe that the fight will be acrimonious and unlikely to succeed. BT is a bandwidth hog. We all know that – saying that “its legal & why are you slowing it down on me” isn’t a valid excuse to legislate network neutrality: BT is not neutral it clogs the network and delays other services.

If that was not bad enough, there is now speculation at my own university that the packet shaping is making it very difficult for University of Ottawa users to use email applications from home. The University of Ottawa uses a persistent SSL encryption technology for the thousands of professors and students who access their email from off-campus. There is speculation that Rogers is mistakenly treating the email traffic as BitTorrent traffic, thereby creating noticeable slowdowns.

This is probably true and the reason is the packet shaping technology that Rogers has purchased from Ellacoya Networks. The Packet inspection signature techniques they use cannot differentiate between encrypted Bittorrent traffic and encrypted or ssl traffic. Ellacoya may disagree, but they are unable to tell the difference, I’ve heard this from people doing carrier trials on their systems. (UPDATE: A Juniper engineer (who has asked to remain nameless) also points that this is due to the inability for Ellacoya to do ‘truly’ deep packet inspection.)It’s funny because all of this is really a problem that comes from users responding to shaping in the first place. They encrypted their traffic – thinking “hahaha now you can’t shape this..” Rogers response: we’ll shape all encrypted traffic. I’ve been told by someone familiar with cable companies that encrypted traffic on their network went from 3.5% to some 60%+ in the past two/three years.The reason we hear less complaints about Bell Sympatico is that its DSL technology. The carrier can provide tailored services right down to each user. Or to the laymen: if you aren’t doing anything else but using BT its quite likely that your speeds will remain faster than on cable only because they can adjust it at a lower level in
the network. The actual amount of throughput to the internet may actually be less. So while Rogers mostly shapes its traffic for the entire network Bell can see you’re only using 10Kbps (or more) of encrypted data and its not bouncing wildly with multiple connections that must mean your using a VPN or ssl – not BT. So we’ll give you that bandwidth. Rogers can’t do this because of the design of the network and the choice of using ellacoya – its pretty cut and dry.

If true, this form of network interference – implemented with virtually no transparency and now affecting basic Internet services such as email – demonstrates why a dedicated consumer complaints commission is a good start, but a place to complain is not enough.

Shaping has now become network interference, while Michael is right there is no transparency we get back to supporting users statement I made earlier…. While the basic services such as email are being affected because of an Ellacoya issue. But regardless this comes back to the point of if they didn’t shape traffic the network would be congested to shit. I mean it – your neighbour would totally hose your bandwidth. Its become a significant issue for rogers with people leaving BT on all night, if they don’t just shape the entire network you’ll never get to use anything.

The solution lies in creating mandatory net neutrality provisions to ensure that essential communications tools such as email are not surreptitiously degraded.

Sigh… and we’re now back at my original quest for what the heck is network neutrality?The users are clogging the pipes and you’re telling carriers they can’t shape traffic. But you want guarantees on your email services… Maybe we should ban encrypted BT? would that work. nope. people would still use it – we all know that.While I know the technology to see past encrypted BT is available – you’re now going to have the CRTC mandate that Rogers buy said boxes and how to manage their network??… thats a great plan… right.So tell me is network management going to mandated by the network neutrality people… I’ll be honest – very few of the net neutrality proponents have any experience in managing a big network (I can’t actually think of one, I know there probably are some.) It’s a bit funny we’ve got a lawyer complaining about his email not working and telling Rogers to turn off shaping which I know will screw everything else up on his connection… sounds like the unreasonable users that I used to support, though I do understand his frustration. I think its probably time for Rogers to come clean and explain to their users a little more on how they manage traffic shaping. It would allow the Network Neutrality debate to be a bit more grounded.

The Author

Hi. My name is Matt Roberts, you can find me at www.mattroberts.com.


  1. Mark Evans - Rogers: It’s Bandwidth Management; Not Throttling says

    […] Update: If you want a really smart look at what Rogers is doing, check out this post by Matt Roberts. […]

  2. I’m not sure I agree with the concept that Rogers is in the right because they "are doing their best". While I couldn’t agree more that BT is a network problem which needs to be addressed it seems to me that it is a product management, not network management issue. The simple solution to this problem is to stop over selling bandwidth. Rogers marketing rants and raves about ultra-highspeed packages and how cable is faster etc but they refuse to buy the bandwidth to cover it on the other end. If you don’t want to provide the service, stop selling it! What I don’t understand is why Rogers wants to attract the 100gb+/month clients who saturate their 1mbit upstream 24/7/365 to keep a good ratio on his BT site anyway?For those from Rogers reading this: The math is simple – make your standard package include 10gb/month, give 1 warning to overage then bill for it. You will speed up your network for valuable clients, smarten up the BT users and drive down your network costs. Offer a $100/month, 50gb (30gb?) package for those who want it – otherwise send them packing. This isn’t about removing users, it is about billing people for what they use. Unless you’re a power utility in Ontario you should bill for what the service costs to provide!J

  3. mattroberts says

    Hey Jonathon, Its not a case of Rogers doing their best. Its maintaining service levels that you’re actually demanding. For example just because your SSL (Bittorrent)n service is capped at (lets say) 60% of full network Capacity – You still have the other 40% of usage within the network for watching Youtube video, email, etc. You always have a theoretical maximum based on the shaping policies but just not using any one direct service. This is because for the most part Internet users are based on ‘burst’ usage – you use a ton then nothing, use a ton then nothing. etc.I agree with the complaints on the marketing. But with every carrier, bell included, uses shaping of some sort so i gather they prefer to give theoretical speeds. Billing people for what they use is probably coming (its been tried in the US on DSL Services) but not anytime soon – as Canadians prefer, the idea at least, of all you can eat services. cheers

  4. More on Rogers… at markn.ca says

    […] Matt Roberts has a more technical look at the issue. […]

  5. stu says

    I have to disagree with you hear, and agree with Michael Geist, and I am very much familiar with what it takes to run a network. Rogers provides a service, they haven’t been transparent in explaining the limits of that service, and it’s angering its customers. This is not good for business.This is about traffic discrimination, period. I can download 500 kb/sec from orcle.com when trying to get a test copy of an Oracle database software, but my encrypted email traffic is down to 5kb/sec and forget about BitTorrent. That’s traffic discrimination. If the whole network degrades because of BitTorrent, that’s because Rogers has *oversold* its bandwidth. That’s its problem. Rogers is not being transparent in its policies, and network management *ABSOLUTELY* should be included in debates about Net Neutrality. Not that such shaping should be banned, but that there should be mandatory disclosure of policies. It is in the consumer’s interest to understand an ISP’s traffic priorities. That way, ISPs with management policies better suited to one’s pattern Internet use will be preferred. I’m thinking of switching to Bell OmniMax, for example, given what I’ve heard. Or even Bell Sympatico DSL which from firsthand experience doesn’t degrade BitTorrent traffic or encrypted email traffic. Bell has been using this freedom as a marketing tactic at times — as they should!

  6. Robert A. says

    1. Whose bandwidth is it, anyway? If bandwidth belongs to the people who pay for it, i.e. the subscribers, then they have the right to optimize their use of it.I would argue that the CRTC recognized the consumers ownership of bandwidth in their Order 2000-789, which established volume usage rates of between $0.80 and $2 per 100 Mb over a monthly cap. In other words, subscribers pay for bandwidth up to the cap limit, but additional usage costs extra. As the saying goes, "what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander", so if a subscriber is DEPRIVED of bandwidth, he or she should be entitled to a rebate according to the same fee schedule. 2. Matt argues that QOS dependent services like VOIP should have priority over time-independent services like most P2P. However the *real* reason that VOIP and similar services are muscling out other protocols is that they represent an ADDITIONAL revenue stream, over and above the price paid for basic internet services. In other words, it is a way of selling the same bandwidth twice.3. An interesting case on point is CRTC decision 2006-61, which can be found here: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/archive/ENG/Decisions/2006/dt2006-61.htmI disagree with this decision. Cybersurf, which runs the 3Web network, applied to the CRTC, claiming that "it suspected that Shaw was providing the QSE by using features made available to it through PacketCable and/or using deep-packet inspection software purchased from Ellacoya Networks (Ellacoya) to give preference to some data packets over others." QSE stands for Quality of Service Enhancement.Shaw and Rogers took the position that their traffic shaping methods were confidential, and the CRTC to their discredit supported this position and ruled, essentially, that even if Cybersurf’s own VOIP was at a disadvantage, it didn’t matter and they should just work harder.

  7. Neutrality.CA goes down. One more thing we'll hear about in the CDN Neutrality debate. « mattroberts.com says

    […] 23rd, 2007 · No Comments I’ve been working on a follow up post to my older net neutrality post. One of the sites I was going to mention (and disagree with) was Kevin MacAurthur’s […]

  8. mattroberts says

    Anon, Agreed. But the question is: Is Shaping a Net Neutrality issue? My view is that it isn’t. Being pissed off with the shaping policies of ones provider is fine but saying that this is a determined attempt by the carriers to kill competition doesn’t fit the facts – by that measure its not a Net Neutrality issue. Even by the definitions of the working group on Net neutrality here in Canada shaping would be perfectly legal – but people still claim its a net neutrality issue. I think the movement is a bit drunk on ‘us vs. the man’ mentality. I think its unhelpful.

  9. The Internet is a Series of Tubes. « mattroberts.com says

    […] 2007 · No Comments Well this quiet part of the internet has not been so quiet as of late. My post on net neutrality has gotten some interesting responses from people – mostly by email and some occasional link backs […]

  10. mattroberts says

    Hey Anon, Read my more up to date post. (there a back link ahead of your more recent reply.) In it I essentially say that if you design your service to use P2P protocols in todays environment you can’t claim that you’ve been unfairly targeted. You now that carriers are shaping p2p traffic and you deserve equal blame for designing your technology using that protocol. While I agree that should Youtube become a problem shaping may occur but the level of secondary connections the routers would be involved in pushing would be less. Or let me say 300Kb from one server using http (for youtube) is not nearly as taxing on the network as for 300Kb of BT traffic. So while both are only using 300Kb its more reasonable to expect BT traffic to be shaped than that of youtube. In the event that youtube may in fact use 500KB and BT only 300Kb this argument could conceivably hold true. where the number of pinging related bandwidth along with peer connections is more detrimental to local traffic than that of the larger connection from just one source.BTW – I was using encrypted BT on the Rogers network recently, I was getting close 100Kbps consistently so I’m thinking it may have more to do with weather people are grabbing the majority of their connections from off the rogers network. As this file zipped along handily and by reading IP’s I was connecting almost entirely within the Rogers system.

  11. A little more on Canadian neutrality - im addicted says

    […] Rogers should be much more open about how and where they shape their traffic. Matt Roberts has a good explanation on why some traffic shaping is necessary and what net neutrality […]

  12. Anonymous says

    Its like selling gas you don’t have. You can’t. So why due Rogers and other companys sell more bandwidth a month then they provide. Greed, why else. If you can charge 10 people $10’s for 10 Liters of gas, but only give them 5 liters you have 50 liters to sell to 10 other suckers and double your profit. You can’t do this with real gas of course, but you can with bytes, its the same stunt the cell phone companys pull with there minutes which is why I don’t have a cell phone, I am not paying $30+ a month when I won’t make more that 15mins in calls a month.Wednesday I am canceling my rogers internet and going with dsl.

  13. Steve says

    To Anonymous,That’s a nice concept in theory but it doesn’t work in reality. Your phone company charges you a flat rate for local the use of your phone. Now if every person in the city was to use their phone all the time at the same time the system would overload but no one complains because these services, all "bulk use services" are based on an expected load calculation. That’s how businesses run. If you only sold what your system could handle peak you would be out of business in no time.Cell phone systems can’t handle the load if all cells are on at the same time. Hydro companies can’t handle peak demand if every user turns their lights on at the same time. Heck, even the roads you drive on are sized based on peak use expectations. Complaining that Rogers isn’t allowed to do the same thing on their sales is just silly. It’s how the world works.Additionally with respect to DSL I find it funny that no one ever mentions the obvious. People think DSL is vastly different in the end service to the user but it’s not. The pipes still merge, they just do it up at the head end. The head end equipment actually has more live segmenting of data to do real-time and this places a demand on the central distribution network. Not to mention that the feeder pipe is only so large in the first place. So yes, on Cable your neighbour 2 doors up can hose you to some extent, but on DSL a guy 1/2 km away on the same segment can do just the same to you. It’s inherent in the distribution process, it just happens at a different point.

  14. mattroberts says

    Couldn’t have said it better myself Steve. (and haven’t in many cases.)Regrading your DSL comment the benefit of DSL is in combination with existing Packet management techniques down to an indviduals nodes. but you are correct on the central demand distribution issues.

  15. Lance Dutson on Net Neutrality - Podcast : Skinny Moose Media says

    […] You can learn more about Net Neutrality by watching this video. Also check out more here, here, here, and […]

  16. So… is this a Net Neutrality issue? « mattroberts.com says

    […] on comments on this blog and discussions on Michael Geists site among others: it is. I of course disagree – the […]

  17. mattroberts says

    How is that at all wrong? Rogers began shaping on encrypted traffic in the summer of ’03. And the ellacoya boxes didn’t provide DPI until a ’06 software revision was thrown in. So as I pointed out they began shaping all encrypted traffic, once they realized thats where BT user were going.In any event your fundamental statement is wrong. Based on their terms of service Rogers can do DPI if they so wished. DPI isn’t just a tap on the network with recording, it would only need to look at whether the encrypted streams are working in concert with each other. Also there is nothing illegal about it, not here in Canada in any event. As Michael Geist has pointed out several times on his blog, as he’d like it to be illegal. So with the exception of bad publicity and public confusion there is nothing now in the way of Rogers doing DPI, as bell is now doing.And i stand by my original argument – net neutrality is not about shaping. its about whether a carrier using shaping to give the carriers products or service a better end user experience then that of a competing offering. IF rogers is shaping to reduce peoples speed of stealing TV shows because its killing my videoskype calls then good on them – if their doing it to slow skype to give a competitive advantage to rogers voip phone offering thats a net neutrality issue. And surprisingly I have started a discussion, numerous comments on this post here, references at Michaels and Marks sites, subsequent posts also have received a lot of attention … you’re the one who is hiding behind anonymity.

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