Columns Archive

Rogers Must Come Clean on Traffic Shaping

Appeared in the Toronto Star on April 16, 2007 as ISP Must Come Clean on 'Traffic Shaping'

With well over a million subscribers, Rogers is universally recognized as one of Canada's leading Internet service providers.  The company offers several tiers of services, including the "Extreme" package that boasts of "blistering speed for sharing large files and much more."  The package offers fast downloads, somewhat slower uploads, and a monthly cap of 100 gigabytes of data transfers.  

Despite the promises of fast speeds and large file sharing capabilities, there are growing concerns among many consumers that the service delivers far less than advertised. Rogers actively engages in "traffic shaping", a process that limits the amount of bandwidth available for certain applications.  Although this was initially limited to peer-to-peer file sharing applications, there is mounting speculation that the practice may be affecting basic functionality such as email and the use of virtual private networks.

For the past 18 months, Rogers traffic shaping has been an open secret. While Rogers at first denied the practice, it effectively acknowledged it in late 2005, arguing that peer-to-peer file sharing was using a disproportionate percentage of network resources and that the traffic shaping was needed to maintain the functionality of core services such as email and web browsing.

In response to the implementation of traffic shaping, many file sharing applications now employ encryption to make it difficult to detect the contents of data packets.  This has led to a technical "cat and mouse" game, with Rogers now believed to be one of the only ISPs in the world to simply degrade encrypted traffic.

The traffic shaping issue raises several important concerns.  From a consumer perspective, it is difficult to reconcile how the company can promote a service offering specific speeds and a maximum cap on data transfers, yet secretly hamper the ability for consumers to make full use of the service for which they have paid.  Moreover, the failure to disclose the practice – a comprehensive search of the Rogers website does not yield a single mention of traffic shaping or limits on peer-to-peer applications – may bring consumer protection statutes into play.

Rogers' traffic shaping practices have also raised concern among network neutrality advocates, who fear that the company could limit bandwidth to competing content or services.  Some customers note that the bandwidth consumed by customers of Rogers Internet phone service does not count against the monthly cap, though the same is not true for competing Internet telephony services.

Further, traffic shaping of file sharing applications – particularly those that use the BitTorrent protocol – targets a perfectly legal protocol that is relied upon by a growing number of small businesses.  These include Canadian artists and film makers who use BitTorrent to circulate their work and open source software developers who depend on BitTorrent to distribute their programs in a cost-effective manner.

In addition to the consumer and competition concerns, there is now speculation at my own university that the traffic shaping is rendering it difficult for University of Ottawa computer 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 encrypted email traffic as encrypted BitTorrent traffic, thereby creating noticeable slowdowns.  Indeed, I have been advised that the University computer help desk has received a steady stream of complaints from Rogers customers about off-campus email service.

If true, this form of network interference – implemented with virtually no transparency and now affecting basic Internet services such as email – could well extend beyond just email to include a host of other core applications that rely upon encrypted data transfers.  For example, many businesses depend upon encryption to create virtual private networks that enable employees to login from remote locations into company servers.  If Rogers is degrading encrypted traffic, it could render such applications virtually unusable.

Notwithstanding the steady flow of complaints, the lack of transparency from Rogers, and the potential threat to core communications activities, there has seemingly been no action from any governmental authorities including Industry Minister Maxime Bernier, Competition Commissioner Sheridan Scott, or Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Chair Konrad von Finckenstein.  In fact, earlier this month Bernier pushed forward with a telecommunications deregulation plan over the objection of a parliamentary committee that studied the issue.  

While the government has announced plans for a new consumer complaints commission, providing a sounding board for consumers is not enough. The solution lies in requiring full disclosure of traffic shaping and the introduction of mandatory net neutrality provisions to ensure that essential communications tools such as email are not surreptitiously degraded.

Michael Geist holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law. He can reached at or online at


  1. Geri Schwering says:

    Job Finding Club Assistant
    Dear Sir,
    Thank you for your article, I have been embroiled in a 4 month battle with Rogers over this very issue. I work for a non-profit agency providing job search assistance and resources to the people of Durham Region, and a Rogers customer. Our clients use their web-based mail to submit resumes and cover letters to prospective employers that are advertising positions or have cold called; and of late when sending their cover letters and attempt to attach their resume (35-54kb sized doc) the action times out. Rogers swears if we can download we can upload, not our problem. I suspected something or someone was stepping on our bandwidth, so went to considerable effort to reconfigure our network from wireless to make sure that wasn’t the issue. At this point I will let you know I’m just the “clerk-typist” by job description but have a strong interest in all things techy, and felt that from the beginning something wasn’t right about this! Thank you you have now given me the “ammunition” to be able to go to the management team and get and ISP our clients can be better served by.
    Thanks again and keep up the good work!
    Geri Schwering, Job Finding Club Assistant
    Meta Vocational Services Inc.

  2. Martin Cleaver says:

    My trackback to [ link ] didn’t register…

    And now, who is trying to silence the public?

    In Canada, at Net, over 2351 signatures from the public were collected protesting against ISP. Last night we discovered that Net had been taken down because of “Legal Concerns”.

  3. Bravo
    Thank you for bringing this issue to more people’s attention. As a long time Internet user, I can’t help but feel there is something seriously wrong going on here.

    Crippling bittorent because it uses too much bandwidth seems fairly preposterous. Especially considering Roger’s customers pay for that bandwidth, many after being sold on “extreme high speed – perfect for sharing large files” or something along those lines.

    At the root of this problem is a network that is (apparently) not up to the task. More and more people are using the internet everyday. Computers are getting faster by the hour. Hard drives are doubling in size while dropping in price. Files are getting bigger. Does Rogers really expect people to live in the past because their network can’t keep up with the times?

    Keep up the good work, Michael.

  4. Adam Jackett says:

    Web Developer
    This article sheds some light on a few things, and I have an addition to Geri Schwering’s reply. As I write this response, I’m attempting to upload a full website to my development server. There are a number of JPG files for the site, and while most of them are going through, the odd one is getting “stuck”. I have been noticing this since November of this year. It happens to other files, like DOC (Word), XLS (Excel), MDB (Access) and FLA (Flash) that I’ve witnessed, and a friend of mine says it happened with a QuickTime MOV file.

    I’ve been monitoring this issue and found the following to be true. This issue happens on multiple computers at multiple locations/offices, both PC and Mac, using multiple FTP applications. It also happens on multiple servers. The only thing that has been consistent in every issue is the Rogers connection. I’m positive that Rogers has done something to hinder upload abilities. It’s very frustrating as a web developer who uploads thousands of files a month. I’ve actually found that ZIP files can go through no problem, and developed a solution that extracts the files from the ZIP right on the server, but I would rather Rogers fix the issue than continue on like this.

  5. retired
    Not sure if I am on the right thread.
    On my Bell cell phone I was able to use Primus access numbers to reduce the cost of long distance calls. On my new Rogers cell service I cannot access those numbers and I have been told by Rogers that they are blocking access. When I signed my contract I did not see any statement regarding such blocking.
    Does anyone else have this trouble? If the blocking continues what is the easiest, cheapest way to dump Rogers?

  6. Boycott Admins says:

    Net Neutrality- where will they stop?
    Rogers is currently shaping all bittorrent traffic because they claim it takes too much of their available internal bandwidth and want to provide resources for their “basic functionality”. Why is Bittorrent not basic functionality? It a developer trying to work with Linux, it is.

    Moreover, what’s to stop them from classifying competitors’ VOIP traffic as non-basic functionality? They offer VOIP, and compete with Vonage. I can see them very easily using the same arguments against Vonage traffic as they do against Bittorrent.

    “10% of our users use 70% of the bandwidth on VOIP and we shape that traffic to ensure that basic functionality like browsing and email gets priority”

    It’s a slippery slope, and net neutrality would force Rogers to treat all traffic equally.

    If you’re a client considering canceling and want to send a message to Rogers, don’t just cancel. Cancel and then tell them here: [ link ]

  7. Glad to know I’m not crazy. For six months I have been trying to get Rogers to solve my problem uploading (typically documents in Microsoft Office). Some files go through and others do not. But whenever I take my laptop elsewhere (e.g. hotel) the FTP uploads works just fine. Like Adam (above) I can compress the files first but it’s a bother.

    It’s obviously a Rogers issue but all their techies claim to be stumped and I only have so much time to waste with those dolts.

    I wish there was something I can do?

  8. Me again. So after 6+ months of frustration, the problem disappears. My FTP uploads are smooth and fast. Did Rogers do something?

  9. Rogers is crap.
    I’m still screwed. My torrents are dead and FTP uploads are still unreliable.

    Thanks Rogers for making Ontario’s telecommunication sector similar to ones in third world countries!!!

  10. exRogersCustomer says:

    The fundamental problem is that Rogers has a monopoly providing services via co-ax cable. The monopoly needs to end. Currently if I want cable TV or Internet and I don’t want Rogers, my only option is to pack up and move! That is absurd. End the monopoly! NOW!

  11. Victor Rudik says:

    Owning a Cable Modem OK ONLY IF you buy
    Rogers FAQs list compatible modems & advise you can own or rent. What they do not reveal is that ONLY a \\\”compatible modem\\\” purchased from Rogers or their authorized dealers will be activated/accepted by MAC ID code. I purchased an identical modem to one that I was renting from Rogers BUT I bought it on line for $40 not the $100 that Rogers & dealers want. No where in their service terms or FAQs do they specify that the compatible modem is \\\”deemed compatible only if purchased from their inventory of MAC Id devices\\\”. That is false advertising and monopolistic plus price gouging at 60% more that you can buy from many vendors.

  12. uOttawa Residence – Rogers turns off internet
    I’m living in Brooks Residence was downloading a lecture video necessary for my class and Rogers turned off my internet. I phoned today and told that I exceeded my bandwidth… No warnings. In fact, I’m not even permitted to check my usage as a uOttawa student or even to have a address so they can contact me should my usage exceed the quota.

    In my contract for internet usage that I signed upon, there is no mention of the throttling clause, only that internet services must be used for ‘academic purposes’, which it was being used for. I’m paying for a service which is being denied to me by an ISP that is too incompetent to upgrade its own network.