Rogers Communications Inc. will stop "throttling" Internet traffic on its network later this year – a long-awaited move that follows a similar decision by rival BCE Inc.
Toronto-based Rogers made that revelation in a letter to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Friday, as it sought to refute allegations that it engages in unauthorized throttling of online games.
In January, the CRTC's enforcement arm disclosed the preliminary results of an investigation into Rogers' Internet management practices. That case is based on a complaint from the Canadian Gamers Organization that Rogers allegedly throttles, or slows, popular online games such as World of Warcraft, in violation of the telecom regulator's guidelines.
In publicizing those findings last month, the CRTC ordered the company to either rebut the evidence gathered by its probe or present a workable compliance plan by Feb. 3 – or risk a hearing on the matter. As part of its rebuttal, Rogers disclosed that its has decided to cease traffic shaping on its network through a phased-in approach that will begin next month.
"New technologies and ongoing investments in network capacity will allow Rogers to begin phasing out that policy starting in March 2012," wrote Kenneth Engelhart, senior vice-president of regulatory affairs.
"These changes will be introduced to half of Rogers existing Internet customers by June 2012 and to its remaining customers by December 2012."
Speculation has been rife that Rogers would follow the lead of BCE, which informed the CRTC late last year that both Bell Canada and Bell Aliant would stop implementing the controversial traffic shaping practice in March.
Throttling, known in industry speak as technical Internet Traffic Management Practice (ITMP), generally targets peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing through such sites as BitTorrent by slowing down speeds of the heaviest users during peak traffic periods. Online games, despite sometimes being classified as P2P traffic, need real-time responsiveness and should not be subject to throttling, according to the rules.
In its letter, Rogers also raises doubts about the evidence the CRTC has collected to date for its throttling investigation.
"The testing which the Commission has done was artificial in that it was designed to send a file which would be subject to traffic shaping," Mr. Engelhart wrote. "Your traffic was not representative of the way our online gaming customers or other customers use the Internet. The result of your testing is not surprising: it showed that the system operates as it was configured to do."
The CRTC has said its initial findings suggest that Rogers applies a "technical ITMP" to unidentified traffic using default peer-to-peer ports.
The company, however, says that issue is unrelated to the original complaint made by the gamers organization, which centred on the misclassification of some gaming traffic as P2P traffic – a problem that Rogers says it has resolved.
Instead, the CRTC's evidence points to a separate issue involving "vanishingly small" amounts of unclassified Internet traffic, the company said.
"There is always a bit of traffic that never gets classified," Mr. Engelhart said, adding a problem can arise if that unidentified traffic is sent to a port on a user's computer that is conventionally designated for P2P file sharing.
Since the network equipment cannot identify it, that traffic was being throttled. Rogers, though, estimates that only 0.005 per cent of "real world traffic" was impacted and that much of that unidentified traffic is, indeed, P2P file sharing.
Nonetheless, Rogers says it rectified the problem this week by toggling a switch on its equipment, so that the unclassified traffic on P2P ports is no longer throttled on its network.
Still, it is unclear what happens next with the regulator's investigation. A CRTC spokesman could not immediately provide comment on the matter.
Reaction from net neutrality activists, though, was swift. Online advocacy group OpenMedia.ca, meanwhile, hailed Rogers' decision to halt throttling as a "victory for Internet openness." Even so, reaction from Canadian Gamers Organization was decidedly less enthusiastic.
"Rogers failed to provide the CRTC with technical data as to which games and applications they have tested themselves," said founder Jason Koblovsky. "Without the technical data from their tests on online games, the Canadian Gamers Organization worries that Rogers' response may be an attempt to mislead the CRTC and the public. We continue to call on Rogers to make these numbers public."
For his part, Mr. Engelhart was eager to dispel such suspicions. "Reading the blogs and reading the CRTC's letter, and some of the comments by some of the public interest groups involved in this area, there seems to be a perception out there that Rogers is up to something," he said.
"I can assure you the only thing we are up to is investing a lot of money, time and effort to try and give our customers the best possible Internet service we can."