Much Hate For Rogers

December 12th, 2005 by Potato

I like the internet. I’m an internet junkie. In fact, odds are that you are yourself using the internet to access this very page!

For those of you unfamiliar with the internet (for instance, those of you who have been handed a printout of my website by a kind, and yes we agree, a slightly condescending relative), let me introduce some very basic concepts for you.

First off, there are files on computers that are transmitted so that you can read them. This is how information is shared. It’s a very basic concept. The transmission involves electrical signals running on conductive wires (or pulses of light if you’re really fancy, or radiowaves if you can’t stand clutter), and the equipment to run all that costs money. So, in order to access the internet and the vast number of files out there, I’m going to have to pay for it. Maybe it’ll be through my taxes, and the government/libraries will provide computer terminals for me to borrow, or maybe I’ll pay a company like Bell or Rogers to string a cable to my house so I can access the internet from my own computer whenever I damned well please. One of the great things about the capitalist economy we live in is that if I want to be able to transfer more files/information per unit time, I can pay more for a more capable connection — the more I’m willing to pay, the more bandwidth they’ll sell me.

I’m coming at this rant a little obliquely, and I can tell I’m about to lose the last two readers I have, so let me jump ahead a bit in the train of thought.

I currently use Rogers as my ISP, and it is readily apparant that they are engaging in the worst form of bait-and-switch type business practices that are just a hair’s breadth away from all out customer buggery. I’ve had trouble with their customer support before, and some of their very odd decisions, but things are coming to a ludicrous level now.

In recent history, they’ve been curtailing the benefits of their high speed cable modem service by cutting out things not directly related to surfing the web (note: the web is a subset of the internet). Webpage hosting, a very basic level of service from virtually every ISP, was included with Rogers, at one point touting up to 20 MB of space so you could share photos and the like. Then, with virtually no warning* they deleted everyones webpage at and asked that you set up a special geocities account. I was very worried about that, since geocities is an ad-supported free service (why send your paying customers to a free service?) that has had in the past some very questionable user agreements (at one point they claimed to own the copyright on anything they hosted). While the special rogers version didn’t have any ads, the address contained your full email address! Admittedly, it’s not exactly rocket science to figure out someone’s email address from the old pages, but it wasn’t there for every mindless spamtrollbot to find and add to its repetoire, and furthermore, the URL didn’t contain the @ symbol, which can cause all manner of headaches.

* – to be honest, there was technically warning, but it was not what I would consider fair. A very spammish-looking email was sent out after the Rogers-Yahoo merger deal, saying simply that there would be changes to webhosting, with a link to their transition page, which further had a link explaining that there would be changes coming in 6 months time. No further reminders were sent.

Overall, the webhosting situation was very poorly handled and in my mind a very bad idea. If they were merging with Yahoo/Geocities and wanted to use the geocities servers to actually serve the webpages, why not set up aliases for all of them? While it’s not as spiffy as a custom domain name, a webpage is something commonly used by a number of small businesses, many of whom would not bother to read 3 links deep in the Rogers/Yahoo advertisement to learn about the changes. They were completely sideswipped, having to change business cards, scramble for a new host (since a geocities site commands zero respect in business), and search for the backups of the webpage since it was deleted from the old server.

Meanwhile, they introduced their “Extreme” level of service, featuring a new $100 modem that you had to buy yourself, but which provided a higher throughput rate (advertised up to 5 Mbps downloads, versus the 3 Mbps downloads of the previous Rogers service). At the time, I was having some trouble with my cable modem, probably due to the large influx of students into my building/subnet which was causing me to get less than 1/3 of my advertised bandwidth. The tech recommended that I buy the new modem, which ran on a separate subnet and shouldn’t be prone to those sorts of problems. Were I a more argumentative person, I probably would have demanded that they give me the modem (I pay Rogers over $75 a month for TV and internet, surely with 3 years of me as a customer on my own, plus decades at my parents’ house, it would be a worthwhile investment). At any rate, I bought it, and things were better (I was getting half the advertised “extreme” bandwidth, bringing me up to the regular cable modem rates).

However, Rogers doesn’t want to actually give up that much bandwidth, so they introduced a new “feature”: transfer caps. There is a set amount you’re allowed to download each month (60 GB), after which you get he-bitch man-slapped down to dial-up speeds until the next month. This was to keep the “excessive” (“extreme?!”) users from choking the whole network with their always-on connections. To be fair, it’s not a bad limit: even I haven’t hit it yet, and I’d consider myself to be a big (but not excessive/abusive) user of my internet access. But it is still somewhat restrictive: you could hit it in just over 26 hours if you were able to continuously harness the maximum capacity of your modem. Perhaps the fact that fewer people aren’t cut off speaks volumes about the difference between advertised bandwidth and actual.

So, that’s fine. I don’t like it, but I can see it from their point of view and let it slide. Then they axe newsgroups. Ok, whatever. I do use them, but not that often. It was a basic level of service granted by all ISPs and part of what I pay for, and now they just tell me to go get a Giganews account for $15/mo or whatever. No discount on my bill or anything. That part makes me kind of mad, since it really seems like a bait-and-switch.

But the latest insult is even worse: they’re restricting what you can do with your bandwidth. Sometime between August and now, and I’m not sure exactly when, they introduced bandwidth limiting measures above and beyond the 60 GB limit. These target specific programs and sources of files, and is causing certain users a ton of headaches (including me!). Worse yet they never told anyone that limits were going in. At least with the overall 60 GB cap and the usenet cancellation, there was notice about it. So far, there’s been no official confirmation that throttling (“packet shaping”) is in use. And it’s being used very stupidly: I can understand throttling it so I can’t use the raw brute force of my extreme connection for more than short bursts of time; but leave me with enough bandwidth to make some kind of progress. Cutting it down to below dial-up so that I’m looking at month long completion times is way over the top. 100 kB/s I would be quite happy with. Even 25 kB/s I might write off as being a vaguely decent connection, and possibly the fault of the other side. But peaking at 5 kB/s, and averaging a mere 1 kB/s is simply not acceptable. It obviously points to a problem, which I tracked back to Rogers and their throttling.

It seems to target bittorrent and other programs selectively (some users have reported troubles downloading from iTunes). This is, simply, absurd. Bittorrent (and iTunes!) have some very legitimate uses.

If you’re not familiar with Bittorrent, let me tell you about its miraculous nature. To download a large file from a server is straightforward: you connect to the server, it uploads, you download. The server must pay for a lot of bandwidth to transfer those large files to many users. However, if those large files are time-sensitive, such as game patches (everyone wants to get patched up the day the patch comes out!) or movie trailers (ooh! new HD Xmen3 trailer!) those server-client paradigm servers can get hit hard. They have to pay for really really big “data pipes” so that they can handle the peak demand on release day — bandwidth which may go to waste the rest of the month.

So an ingenius system was created. If 100 users want a file, instead of sending it to all of them simultaneously, the server will instead send pieces to them. So user 1 will get piece 1, while user 2 gets piece 2. Now, instead of user 1 then getting piece 2 from the server, he trades with user 2, and they get their missing pieces from each other. This happens with all the users, and in the end the server only needed to send one complete copy out, and it was just shared back and forth amongst the users (in practice, it’s more than that, but still significant savings over the old model). The beauty of the system is that each user here tends to have some upload capacity which they were paying for but not using, so the bandwidth savings are essentially free. It also spreads the load out more, which can be healthier for the internet architechture as a whole (though it also creates more overhead).

Bittorrent is used mostly for large files, particularly ones where there isn’t the money to host a high-bandwidth server. Think Linux distributions, game patches, amateur movies and the like. Yes, the program itself doesn’t care what is sent, so you could just as easily send a stolen Hollywood movie as you could send a copy of your digitized vacation footage for your extended family. But the point is that Rogers should not be limiting users ability to use the program. I pay for the bandwidth, and I expect to use it.

Some helpful things I’ve learned while researching this:

  1. Rogers is running its software on almost all ports, so using non-standard bittorent ports will not help you.
  2. Rogers has reserved the ports related to “permitted” web activities so that, at the moment, they are not being throttled.
  3. XBox Live and VOIP are considered “premitted” uses, look up the ports to use Bittorrent over those until Rogers kills them, too.
  4. This is being done on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood and IP-by-IP basis. Just because you haven’t seen the problem yet doesn’t mean you won’t soon.

Each of these restrictions to my interent access, combined with a price tag that only goes up leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth. So why, you ask, don’t I switch? Well, with the most recent changes to limiting downloads via Bittorrent and peer-to-peer (under 5 kB/s now; that’s worse than dial-up, man) and my extremely bad packet loss situation in WoW, I’m considering it. Before those hit, there simply wasn’t another option.

The faults in dial-up are obvious. It consumes a phone line and it’s slow. If you pay for a separate phone line, it’s not even necessarily cheaper.

(A)DSL is more subtle. Notice the A that is often dropped in DSL: it stands for “asynchronous”. That means that your upload and download speeds are different. While that’s true for most connections (my cable modem is capable of about 10X more download than upload), it’s particularly troublesome for DSL, since the upload is so very low: often the same as dial-up. That can pose trouble for certain applications (voice chat, games, or a download that tries to send you a lot of small packets which would require sending a ton of ACK packets back up). DSL is, in short, not the gamer’s choice. On top of that, the peak down speeds are often lower. While you don’t suffer from the evening rush as cable modem users do, since you don’t partition your bandwidth with the rest of the neighbourhood, it also means you can’t set a big download to run overnight, since you’ll do no better then. Since I’m mostly nocturnal, that’s not a big drawback to cable for me. DSL depends a great deal on the quality of your phone lines. Despite the fact that we get telemarketers calling us every month to try to push it on us, the wiring in this building is simply not up to the task. Once I took out one of our phone jacks and the wires behind the wall were all corroded. I stripped them back to some fresh metal to try to improve the connection (I think it helped a bit, but the phones are still a bit fuzzy here — who knows what shape the main box in the basement is in?). Also, the cost of DSL is usually just about the same as for cable, which makes it even more of a no-brainer for me.

However, if I’m not actually able to pull files any faster than DSL anyway due to throttling, then I might consider switching if/when I move.

One final thing: I ran across a neat feature while troubleshooting my problems (I swear to you, 4 hours fiddling with UPnP and my router and posting on forums and all kinds of garbage only to find Rogers had throttled me). It turns out many cable modems let you access them to check your noise levels yourself. Look at and see if yours does. (My levels are currently 39 dB SNR, 2 dB power level down, 43 dBmV up. I’m still not quite sure what they mean or what they should be).

The question on my mind is: what do I do about it? They say there’s a way to check how close to the global 60 GB limit you’re getting, but I couldn’t find it under my account management page. Why they need to kill specific programs in addition to the global limit baffles me. I can’t call tech support and say “Hey, you nooblars throttled my bittorrent ports! Now I have to use port XXXX to get my latest linux distro!” since firstly, that’ll just clue them in to limit more ports (even if I don’t tell them which, or even that I’ve found a work-around), and secondly, the guys who answer the phone are for the most part poorly paid cue-card reading monkies who don’t deserve the full force of my wrath (hi Bug!). Is anyone familiar with the exact laws/protections regarding bait-and-switch, changing services provided, or anything else? I think a paper letter might help most for a general case, though a phone call demonstrating my legitimate need to get unthrottled might help me in particular more. Complaining to the Better Business Bureau might help, but from what I understand they want you to try to work it out with the company in question first, with a paper trail to show that they’re complete ‘tards before they give them a black mark… which doesn’t seem to amount to much, anyway.

Some things I haven’t had time to read yet:
Rogers’ end user agreement.
Rogers’ acceptable use policy.

Update: Found this on Rogers’ site regarding the Usenet discontinuation.

Usenet discontinuation: If Rogers is discontinuing a service, shouldn’t I get a discount on my bill?
There was no charge for this service. Rogers has introduced many new high-value services free for Rogers Yahoo customers. For example, RY Photos with unlimited storage, commercial-free Internet radio (Launchcast), a special Rogers Yahoo browser with premium features such as tabbed browsing, free premium personal web space and free blogs. As the Internet changes, it is reasonable to expect that new services will displace older. On balance, the total package for Rogers Yahoo customers continues to improve in both scope and depth.

I have to call bullshit. It may not have been a line-item on our bills, but that doesn’t mean it was free. It was definitely something they factored into their decision to charge $48.10/mo instead of any other number. Giving us ad-free versions of crap Yahoo already offers everyone isn’t adding much value. For starters, I doubt it costs them much if Yahoo can offer it based soley on the support of ads. And secondly, their free stuff looks and feels free. The Yahoo 360 blogs are really terrible — you’re better off going with Blogger.

Also, I found the usage measurement tool they speak of. Turns out there are two completely separate account management areas in Rogers. One is from the rogers/yahoo portal where you can add additional email subaccounts and the like. The other is from the main Rogers page, which allows you to view your account management and billing details. I’m using just under half the 60 GB limit (based on half a month’s use).

2 Responses to “Much Hate For Rogers”

  1. rez Says:

    Throttling?! WTF is this bullshit? It hasn’t hit me yet, but if it does I’m gonna have to look for another provider. I’m willing to pay for what I get, meaning I’ll gladly pay more if I get more. However, I’m not switching back to Bell. First off, my building is nigh 3000 years old, complete with vintage phone wiring, unsealed single-paned windows, and hot water pipes for heating; and second, I have a mobile phone, not a land-line.

    If you find any other ISPs with good throughput let me know. I’m currently sitting at 52GB usage (out of a listed 102.4GB limit) with 10 days to go for my month; and this is a quiet month to boot (my downloads total only 9GB and my uploads 43GB). Don’t worry, Bug, I’m serving totally legit files…I swear.

  2. Potato Says:

    I’ve been doing a lot of reading on this today, trying to sort it all out. Some people on the dslreports forums have said that if you get throttled and call in, if you get bumped up to teir 2 support, you can ask to have your IP removed from the throttling software (just say you need BT for legit uses, like linux distros or podcasts). Those who have tried it said Rogers opened tickets for them, but they haven’t yet seen the throttle come off. Now these were people who were only moderately throttled — it was only their upload that was throttled to 5 kB/s (which makes sense, since that’s what supposedly causes trouble for the Rogers network due to the way it was planned around average user usage, which is DL heavy), so they were still getting 50 kB/s downloads. Last few days I’ve been in the 5 kB/s dumps, and while trying to fix it today it was hovering closer to 1 kB/s, which is simply not workable. If that doesn’t get fixed I’ll simply have to cancel and switch — which brings up another point: Rogers hates churning customers, so their SaveGate people might be able to turn off the throttling (or at least keep it civil).

    For now, using Xbox Live ports is letting me run at a decent speed, but others have reported that Rogers is slowly adding the packet shaper to monitor those avenues as well, on a neighbourhood-by-neighbourhood basis.

    As regards alternate suppliers, I’m looking into 3web ( right now. They’re just recently getting into high speed, leasing lines from Rogers or Bell depending on the area, so they should have the same sort of speed… but whether they will inherit Rogers’ throttling remains to be seen. They are significantly cheaper ($30/mo for their 6 Mbps package, despite the flawed graphic on their front page), so another option might be to threaten to switch and get Rogers to match the price (or split the difference).

    Edit: I’m not impressed with their site, as errors seem to abound. Their comparison chart says they offer up to 3 Mbps, same as the regular Rogers high speed, but the gold package says it’s 6 (same as current Rogers Extreme — when I got mine it was rated to 5), and the silver’s only advertising 256 k. They also claim 3 Mbps for their DSL, which is more than Bell offers… I do like the ability to use their dial-up service as a backup/roaming feature. It’s a shame Rogers doesn’t offer us the Sprint service for that (Bell DSL customers still get to dial in to sympatico when on the road — something my Dad uses all the time). Oh, one other concern with 3Web: they used to have a rather Draconian bandwidth hog policy when they were dial-up only (yes, I briefly considered just using dial-up when I first moved!): each month they’d look closely at the usage of their top 1% of users, and cancel accounts as they saw fit. Not sure if I’d be in the 1%, but I’d almost certainly be in the top 10%…

    I’m planning on writing a letter to complain, I’ll post it here when I’m finished drafting it so maybe everyone can get in on complaining. Maybe they’ll listen. (I’m going to have to slow down and reread what I write a few times though… this rant was way too long for my point and just didn’t end up flowing very well. Apologies to the reader.)

    Edit2: Ah, I see. The confusion arises because the silver/gold/platinum packages vary regionally. It’s 6 Mbps in the GTA, and 3 in Thunder Bay. And the discrepency between the text and the graphic is due to a promotion: it’s $9.95/mo initially, and the long-term cost is $30.