The Internet is a Series of Tubes.

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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 and there is Michael Geists response to me (more or less), that I’ll address in a moment.But Michael wrote an article for the Toronto Star which you can read.The Rogers response is typical of what I said they were doing and their understanding of the issue:

For the record, Rogers is not “degrading encrypted traffic,” as Michael Geist suggests. He claims Rogers customers in Ottawa are having trouble getting email from the University of Ottawa. We have had no complaints to our call centre on this issue. We have tested the most common encrypted applications and have not been able to detect any performance issues.Our equipment ensures network capacity is reserved for such services as email and Web surfing, and peer-to-peer traffic does not overwhelm the system.Ken Engelhart, Vice-President, Regulatory, Rogers Communications Inc., Toronto

Before we start – I don’t work for Rogers. I think I’ve received a few emails from people thinking I have ways of circumventing the ‘cap’ on bandwidth. This of course is not the case. I’m also not paid by anyone to talk about this. Companies my company has investments in do have relationships with rogers, but also have relationships with Microsoft, Google (etc.) so I don’t particularly feel any allegiance to anyone side. My personal view is that Net Neutrality advocates are more quick to jump on any network management systems as an affront to their Net Neutrality Sensibilities, I think the discussion has degenerated on both sides into an ideological rather than technical discussion. This is probably the worst possible way forward and keeping a technical discussion technical should prevent this from degenerating into a left/right, anarchy/conformity or whatever else you see here discussion. I’m big on keeping this polite i’d ask people to post comments rather than email me as I get loaded with emails I can’t possibly reply to all.——–I personally think its funny when two people are separated by a common language. For Michael & I think thats the case. He looks at services. I look at protocols the services are running over. He looks at applications I look at how those applications use resources. I call it Traffic Management he calls it network interference. But on this issue of Net Neutrality I don’t think the “I Say Tomayto, You Say Tomahto” routine is talking about that same fruit.Truth be told in Michael’s Analysis (and among others) the Internet is a series of tubes. Protocols are a non factor as everything runs on rivers of IP, where there is a level of pressure forcing your data to an end point that is consistent and unfettered. What is on these rivers is immaterial and how much of the river they use is as well. (sigh)Michael points to the Telecommunications Policy Review Panels Net Neutrality provisions. While I’m not expert I think B is get of jail free card for all of the complaints I’ve heard about rogers, this states any net neutrality legislation should:

(b) take into account any reasonable technical constraints and efficiency considerations related to providing such access, and

That said, I’m not a lawyer.In my world the designer of the software is held accountable for the choice of protocol he uses. This is not being done within the Net Neutrality debate.And since in straight apples to apples comparisons: Rogers has not degraded service for any one company directly. Meaning all users of said protocol get hit then I have to blame designers not carriers.For example Rogers may have a competing services but they have not degraded service for people using itunes instead of the Rogers Music store. The fact that a BT based services will get shaped has to do with the fact that said music store has decided to use encrypted BT. Is SlingBox being degraded? nope. is Tivo to Go? nope. Why not? Why haven’t these products have been designed to use a protocol other than BT.Its time to hold the application providers accountable by asking: Why did they chose to do that?Why isn’t that a question at all?Because, imo, to the vast majority of Net Neutrality proponents: the Internet is a series of tubes. They don’t care about the complexities of actually running a network.BT based services are the victim of the success of their current legality in Canada. Just because its legal does not mean it should be given unfettered usage of a networks bandwidth, Peer-to peer protocols (especially BT) are agnostic to location. Meaning its just as likely to try and connect to Timbuktu as it is the guy down the street – even though one would be better suited for a connection. While BT protocols proponents are working on these issues its is by no means solved.This leads to a question of “Should your HTTP traffic get treated the same as BT?” – obviously not. you’re most likely only making one direct connection through the networks and pulling data in one direction. This is a completely different discussion from BT. And unfortunately if a company decides to use a VPN (virtual private network) that gets hammered along the way then we’re back at a technical limitation of the Ellacoya boxes Rogers uses so – they get out of jail on Net Neutrality legislation:Because it will:

(b) take into account any reasonable technical constraints and efficiency considerations related to providing such access

Even the Broadband bill of rights states that:

Nondiscrimination: While it may be necessary to arbitrate among competing claims on network resources, no transport-management schemes (e.g., policy-based routing) should be used simply to favor certain programming over other content, by artificially constraining “competitive” or nonaffiliated fare.

So it “may be necessary to arbitrate” – Isn’t that what rogers is doing?Michael originally started me on this discussion (beyond his/my interest in the subject) because his email has stopped working. Actually, thats slightly untrue his VPN isn’t working (its more complicated than this – I have friend at ottawa U with some of Michael’s problems) its not that it isn’t working its just damned slow. This is as much the Ottawa U IT departments fault as Rogers. They chose a product thats VPN traffic is significantly higher than 20KBPS in that world Rogers starts looking at it funny.Why aren’t we pointing at both Rogers and the IT department… because:The Internet is a series of Tubes It should just provide bandwidth for everyone.Thats what I’m hearing, at least. Net Neutralists call shaping: throttling. Thats not the same thing. Throttling to a certain extent would mean you personally are have the bandwidth reduced. Shaping means that a certain percentage of all the network will be set aside for some traffic. In this case the best efforts traffic (BT or any ssl encrypted traffic) must always be curtailed to the requirement of Time sensitive traffic (video, VoIP.) If a company chooses to use a Peer to Peer protocol for different type of service (Juice is a perfect example, as is Skype) than you need to hold the designer responsible for their choice of design. At least as much, if not more so than that of the network pr
ovider.Now: lets look at some of the other thoughts on Net Neutrality. Just poking Michael is neither fair nor what I intended. Other advocates are a bit silly on the fact that each side has interests that may not be at first visible.To this end I came upon Kevin McArthur’s Site. I’m was going to elaborate somewhat using Kevin McArthur’s pinging analysis he did not long ago. Unfortunately he does an apples to oranges comparison and claims net neutrality problems.EVEN more unfortunately his analysis has been taken down for unknown reasons, to avoid problems for him I’m going to remove any quotes of it from this post. (He did Say it was ok – but I’ve already done it) But I will get at the heart of where i disagree with him. Needless to say in his analysis Kevin forgot to mention something about peering and more importantly he equates latency with quality of service. which isn’t the same thing. or:

High QoS is often confused with a high level of performance, for example high bit rate, low latency and low bit error probability.

This article is what first tipped me off to the disconnect between laymen and Network Admin types. (I love how with my limited knowledge I’m doing the defense of telco’s. By the way I’m not an admin – but know several. Sadly, none at Rogers.)In the article Kevin McArthur laments that:

“companies are in effect creating a problem so they can charge to fix it. “[Even] if everyone paid for a tier-one service, it would be THE EXACT SAME service we have today,” he wrote by e-mail. “Quality of service only works while someone else is getting screwed.”

Ummm…. no. Thats just not true.QoS is more complicated than this and if you’d seen the level of work thats gone into it over the past twenty years you’d be shocked. Its shows a lack of understanding on system interconnect and packet prioritization within IP networks.Just tapping (listening to traffic) a network to figure out QoS issues actually degrades services. It’s a very complex problem. Quality of Service is supposed to mean no one gets screwed or each person gets screwed as need be. Its a bit of misnomer that if your neighbour gets QoS guarantees you’re loosing bandwidth… but I digress. Lets just say how will you know if your email is ever delayed 62 ms (milli-seconds)? You won’t, thats packet prioritization, a delay of your email in microseconds just doesn’t matter. Will you notice it during a VoIP call? possibly – again depending on how you encode it and what protocols you use. but thats why packet prioritization or what Rogers is doing, makes sense to me. QoS goes beyond just shaping and raw data guarantees. I’d personally love for Rogers to turn off all network management on the network for 2 days… just to see what happens.I’m going to now do something fun. I going to call Google Evil. Their Website on Net Neutrality issues is a bit self serving in how it totally makes it sound like the carriers are about to block the web from working:

In our view, the broadband carriers should not be permitted to use their market power to discriminate against competing applications or content.

I agree wholeheartedly with this first line.

Just as telephone companies are not permitted to tell consumers who they can call or what they can say, broadband carriers should not be allowed to use their market power to control activity online.

Notice how they make it sound like the carriers might just be blocking things on the internet. But don’t actually accuse them of it?

Today, the neutrality of the Internet is at stake as the broadband carriers want Congress’s permission to determine what content gets to you first and fastest. Put simply, this would fundamentally alter the openness of the Internet.

In this view, everything Rogers is doing would be wrong.Why is Google worried?They’re not – why are they hinting at a worry? it may very well be for a selfish reason (initiate my conspiracy theory, Dr. evil laugh etc.) – they see Net Neutrality as a way to legislate unfettered peering into the large providers for themselves. Which would in and of itself allow them multiple inroads into the network getting them essentially closer to the core. Peering is going on today – but not at the level larger net application providers might like. In other words. They would like to essentially build themselves into the network that they neither manage nor paid for. This isn’t the internet – this is Rogers internal Cable network.What is peering you may ask?

Peering is voluntary interconnection of administratively separate Internet networks for the purpose of exchanging traffic between the customers of each network. The pure definition of peering is settlement-free or “sender keeps all,” meaning that neither party pays the other for the exchanged traffic, instead, each derives revenue from its own customers. Marketing and commercial pressures have led to the word peering routinely being used when there is some settlement involved, even though that is not the accurate technical use of the word. The phrase “settlement-free peering” is sometimes used to reflect this reality and unambiguously describe the pure cost-free peering situation.Peering requires physical interconnection of the networks, an exchange of routing information through the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing protocol and is often accompanied by peering agreements of varying formality, from “handshake” to thick contracts.

Forcing legislated peering agreements and rules would allow Net Neutrality to take on a whole new form of viciousness as Google and other ‘worried’ web application developers to get unfettered access to the core. While pushing the brunt of the bad press and network stability issues onto the carriers. There’s no proof of this but lets think about it.If you, for example, have a peering contract with another service provider you don’t want that pipe being used for traffic other than for what it was intended otherwise you’ll end up with a stuffed connection. Especially, if you think its for regular google search queries but suddenly that connection is used for YouTube videos. Google would love to have guaranteed peering agreements that force the carriers to open their internal network to their applications – with legislated management techniques based on their own application needs.Peering is also why ping results are silly to me – Microsoft uses XboxLive & Windows Update peering agreements that aren’t the same as their standard “get to my website” connections, over the good old ‘net. Because that traffic is very important, or different, etc. They pay for this special connection into the Rogers network or its free as this also cuts down on fees rogers would pay for the connection onto the backbone. We’ll never be privy to these arrangements.Based on a portion of the love-mail (you know who your are) I’ve received on this subject you’d think I was defending Rogers. But every single carrier in North America today is shaping traffic. They have been for years And every net Neutrality group seems to open the door to shaping in some form or another.So my argument is that this is not a net neutrality issue since its not to the detriment of any one individual service provider. I’m looking to the Net Neutrality advocates to come up with a clearer discussion on just what they mean: legislate shaping? legislate that the information be widely available? just what is net neutrality?I’ve heard all the Rogers ”
shouldn’t be allowed arguments” but in any event – it would be allowed under all of the proposals I can find on what we should consider Net Neutrality.So, I’m tossing down the gauntlet here – help me figure out just what is net neutrality. Everyone seems to have a different answer.

The Author

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


  1. Mitch Brisebois says

    Great stream Matt!To me the question isn’t what’s net neutrality – but what drives net un-neutrality. What I fear is that the big COs have largely ignored niche technology / long tail markets. But as these are getting more mainstream – the pressure is on to protect traditional poly-nopolies. It’s just a business cycle that started with AT&T divestiture. Oh look! – they’re back!

  2. mattroberts says

    Thanks Mitch. Agreed. The recent consolidation down south and the changes we’ll be seeing over the next few months up here do require some consumer protections. we still need to grab that beer 😉

  3. Robert A. says

    Matt’s article illustrates why this issue must be decided in the courts. Matt is undoubtedly wise in the ways of networking, and he probably represents typical opinion among network administrators, but he is apparently incapable of understanding that once a product or service is paid for, the purchaser has rights. Thus he (Matt) writes about "unfettered usage of a networks bandwidth", as if the consumers were bothersome interlopers.The internet is a *bundle* of tubes, or pipes to be more accurate. If I lease a small pipe, then I can have no expectation of a large data flow. But if I pay premium money for a wider pipe, then I have a reasonable expectation that I’ll be able to use the capacity of that pipe. How do you "shape" traffic? Either you install a valve–which is throttling–or else you divert into a smaller pipe, which is fraud. The networks are overselling bandwidth, and then they are prioritizing based upon whatever brings in the most revenue to the network owners. I’m sure they will continue doing it until they are stopped by a court.

  4. mattroberts says

    Robert, there is no proofs that they are capping bandwidth – only the amount of said bandwidth you can use with certain protocols. And while I may not be a lawyer you can see that in their Terms of Service they state implicitly:<i> You must also ensure that your activity does not improperly restrict, inhibit, or degrade any other subscriber’s use of the Services, nor represent (in the sole judgment of Rogers) an unusually large burden on the network itself. In addition, you must ensure that your activity does not improperly restrict, inhibit, disrupt, degrade or impede Rogers??? ability to deliver the Services, and monitor and investigate the Services, backbone, network nodes, and/or other network services or components. </i>Using a Protocol (encrypted BT) that inhibits their ability to monitor the traffic might fall within this provision.You can see these here:

  5. mattroberts says

    I should also point out I’m not a Network Administrator – Just knowledgeable in the ways of IP Networks as that is the primary focus of the companies I work with.

  6. HOTI75 says

    Hi Matt, I agree with you that the net neutrality conversation has been relegated to partisan bickering, which is why we at the Hands Off the Internet Coalition have been working to educate consumers on the basics of net neutrality and how it could lead to devastating affects on the internet’s functionality. These two videos provide an excellent overview of net neturality in very basic terms.;eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fnoisyroom%2Enet%2Fblog%2F%3Fp%3D18314BTW, I also feel that there are plenty of consumer protections already in place (FCC, DOJ, FTC) that will be ready to act should serious issues arise.

  7. Robert A. says

    In the past few days, Rogers has quietly increased its cap on download speed. A check at confirms this, and there have been recent postings on the Residential Broadband Users’ Association site, that repeat these observations. With respect to P2P throughput, the effect is that during the daytime, speeds remain throttled, but during non-peak periods there is a significantly increased download speed. Since P2P sessions typically operate 24 hours/day, the important metric is not kilobytes per second, but gigabytes per day. Whether it is an accommodation by Rogers, or just a happy coincidence, it does seem to be a useful technical way of resolving user complaints.

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