Technology & Science

Cogeco ranks poorly in internet interference report

Cogeco Inc., Canada's sixth largest internet service provider, has ranked second worst in the world for traffic interference in a study by Vuze, an online video company.

BY PETER NOWAK — Cogeco Inc., Canada's sixth largest internet service provider, has ranked second worst in the world for traffic interference in a study by Vuze, an online video company.

Next to Comcast Corp., the largest U.S. ISP, Montreal-based Cogeco had the highest internet reset connection rate in a study conducted by Vuze. Internet resets are a commonly used method of traffic shaping and interference with peer-to-peer applications such as BitTorrent, Vuze said.

A reset occurs naturally when a communication link between computers cannot be made.

ISPs engaged in traffic shaping, however, have introduced "false resets" to purposely block or slow uses of peer-to-peer software, Vuze said.

While the company said its study cannot distinguish between natural and false resets, ISPs ranking high on the list are likely using the technique to purposely interfere with peer-to-peer traffic.

"We are not aware of any normal conditions that would cause the disproportionately large variances in reset activity shown in the data in the data sets of this size," the report said.

"We believe that in most cases there is sufficient data to at least raise questions about whether particular network operators are taking steps to artificially interrupt network connections."

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Vuze, which uses BitTorrent to legally distribute video and games, has written to Cogeco requesting that the company spell out how it manages its network.

"We would appreciate it if you could outline the specific network management practices your company uses, including, particularly, whether your network management practices include the use of false reset messages," Vuze wrote.

The company wrote similar letters to other companies that fared poorly in its study, including Comcast, Bellsouth/AT&T and Cablevision — all U.S. ISPs.

Vuze began its study in January when it offered test users around the world a plug-in that measures resets from individual networks. The study was broadened to all Vuze subscribers in March and has since logged more than a million hours of data from 8,000 users, the company said.

Comcast, which has admitted to blocking peer-to-peer traffic, had three of its networks take the study's top three spots with between 20 and 23 per cent of attempted connections being interrupted. Overall, Comcast networks across the United States made up six of the top 10 spots and 11 of the top 20.

The company recently said it will stop using resets as a means of blocking and slowing peer-to-peer traffic by the end of this year.

Cogeco, which has more than 456,000 internet customers, ranked fourth with a reset rate of 19 per cent. Twenty-two Cogeco customers took part in the study, logging more than 1,200 hours of data.

Marie Carrier, a spokesperson for Cogeco, said the company does not use false resets. Cogeco likely ranked poorly in Vuze's study because of the small number of customers who took part.

"The sampling was not really representative.… We don't do that type of intentional interruption," she said. "It's not conclusive."

Carrier added that Cogeco has not yet received the letter from Vuze. 

Bell Canada Inc., which has taken much of the heat for traffic-shaping in Canada, ranked 52nd overall for network resets. However, Cogeco, Rogers Communications Inc., TekSavvy Solutions Inc., and Telus Corp. all had higher reset rates than Bell.

Rogers has admitted it engages in traffic shaping while TekSavvy rents some of its service from Bell and is thus subject to the company's network-management policies.

Jim Johannsson, a spokesman for Telus, said the company does not engage in any traffic shaping. He added that he was not sure how Vuze could draw such conclusions from its study.

"The internet is pretty big and problems can occur at numerous points that could affect the accuracy of their measurement," he said.

Other Canadian ISPs have not said whether they use false resets to slow down certain types of internet traffic.

Rounding out the Canadian ISPs in the study, Shaw Communications Inc. ranked 64th and Videotron Ltee placed 68th.

Vuze said that although false internet resets are one way of interfering with internet applications, they are not the only method. 

The company in November asked the U.S. regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, to enact regulations limiting the throttling of internet speeds. The FCC is currently holding hearings into whether it should increase its regulation of the internet.

Several groups, including the Canadian Association of Internet Providers and the National Union of General and Public Employees, have called on the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to do the same. The CRTC is reviewing its position on internet regulation and is expected to make a report in May.

Internet experts said the Vuze study highlights the need for the CRTC and the Canadian government to get involved in regulating internet rights.

"What they're putting on the table is the need for better transparency," said University of Ottawa internet law professor Michael Geist. "When you see another major Canadian ISP caught up in these sorts of issues, it highlights the need for the regulator to become more actively involved."