The Xplornet’s Release: Digging into the Documents

Earlier this week, Xplornet Communications Inc. (formerly Barrett Xplore Inc.) issued the following press release in response to my post on the CRTC’s net neutrality enforcement:

Xplornet Communications Inc., (formerly Barrett Xplore Inc.) is aware that allegations made online by Michael Geist on Friday July 8th, 2011 have been reprinted by various media. The statements made in Mr. Geist’s original article omit material information and draw incorrect conclusions regarding Barrett Xplore Inc.’s actions.  Reprinting this blog entry, or Geist’s allegations regarding Barrett Xplore Inc. (or Xplornet Communications Inc), represent the publication of materially misleading statements regarding our company.

To say I was surprised by the release would be an understatement. Xplornet never contacted me to discuss the post or express concern about its content. The original post did not directly target Xplornet, but rather focused on the CRTC enforcement record. It pointed to complaints against several different providers and listed all complaints I obtained as part of an Access to Information request. With respect to Xplornet, I stated the following:

There has been only one complaint that led to a clear change in provider policy. In January 2010, ExaTEL, an Ontario-based Internet phone company, filed a complaint against Barrett Xplore, a satellite Internet provider. ExaTEL alleged that Barrett Xplore was degrading Internet telephony traffic, creating an unfair advantage for its own phone service.

The CRTC ruled that there was no undue preference, but that the throttling of time sensitive traffic violated its guidelines. Faced with the prospect of changing its practices or seeking special approval from the CRTC, Barrett Xplore changed its throttling approach to ensure that Internet telephony was unaffected.

Barrett Xplore was also the source of the longest running complaint as the company took months to respond to CRTC requests to improve its disclosure practices. Only after the Commission threatened to launch a public proceeding into the matter did Barrett Xplore respond.

All of this information was documented in the CRTC documents I posted online (here and here). In follow-up interviews, including in a article, Xplornet has raised four issues: (1) the threat of a public hearing came from an employee new to the file; (2) some of the CRTC documentation was misdirected and therefore delayed in receipt; (3) the ExaTEL problem arose from technical issues involving a particular codec with challenges identifying the source of the problem, and (4) the change in throttling practices was a result of technical changes, not the CRTC finding.

Each claim merits further examination. The claim that a new CRTC employee was brought to the file is inconsistent with the CRTC record. The October 2010 and April 2011 (which contained the threat) were both signed by Lynne Fancy, a Director General at the CRTC. In fact, an earlier June 2010 letter (posted here for the first time) was also signed by Fancy, who was clearly involved with the file for at least a year.

Second, it may be true that some CRTC communication was misdirected, but that hardly seems relevant. The CRTC April 2011 letter chronicles phone calls and meetings directly between CRTC staff and the company:

  • During a spring 2010 meeting in Ottawa with Commission staff, Barrett discussed its Internet services and agreed to address concerns raised by staff regarding the company’s ITMP disclosures.
  • Barrett’s ITMP disclosure issues were discussed again during a conference call with Commission staff on 27 September 2010.  At that time, the company indicated that it would provide Commission staff with copies of updated ITMP disclosure pages that would address staff concerns.
  • On 8 October 2010, Commission staff received via e-mail copies of Barrett’s revised ITMP disclosures, which the company indicated would be posted on its website.  In a letter dated 2 November 2010, Commission staff indicated that the company’s proposed online disclosure for prospective customers did not meet the requirements of TRP 2009-657.  Staff requested that Barrett confirm by 2 December 2010 that it had made the required changes – as specified in the 2 November 2010 letter – to its proposed disclosures.
  • In a telephone conversation with you on 7 January 2011, Patrick Owens of the Commission noted that the company had not yet responded to requests set out in the 2 November 2010 staff letter, nor to a request to respond to a complaint from ExaTEL Inc. about Barrett’s ITMP.  In an e-mail dated 21 January 2011, Barrett indicated that it had amended its ITMP in order to avoid throttling ExaTEL’s voice over Internet Protocol services, but did not address the matter of non-compliant ITMP disclosures.

Third, while I did not post the ExaTEL complaint in the original post, a copy of their August 2010 letter to the CRTC can now be found here. The letter discusses Xplornet’s response to their initial complaint. There is no reference to codecs or other technical issues. Instead, ExaTEL directly challenges Xplornet’s throttling practices, describing them as “not only anti-competitive but [is] also damaging to Vianet/ExaTEL’s reputation as a leader in VoIP Telephony.”

Fourth, it is possible that the change to the Xplornet throttling policy was due to technical changes at the company. However, that is not what the company told the CRTC. As noted in the April 2011 CRTC letter:

In an e-mail dated 21 January 2011, Barrett indicated that it had amended its ITMP in order to avoid throttling ExaTEL’s voice over Internet Protocol services, but did not address the matter of non-compliant ITMP disclosures.

Simply put, the Xplornet release was unnecessary and the follow-on reaction inconsistent with the public record at the CRTC. I believe the company should retract it.


  1. WISP'd out says:
    Considering the above domain is a collection of Xplornet users discussing their issues and it’s widely known in the WISP industry that Xplornet’s only real strength is harvesting government money, I’m not surprised they would choose a PR style attack rather than to address the concerns brought up in the Net Neutrality complaint.

  2. David Ellis says:

    A press release intended to chill free speech?
    Michael, I’m very dismayed to read news of the Xplornet reaction to your Friday post. I can’t remember another situation in which a licensee had such a pugnacious reaction to an analysis of this nature.

    I notice they’ve expanded the scope of their warning to include any “reprinting” of your blog entry or so-called “allegations.” That might include my Monday post, in which I made the following reference:

    “[Geist] publishes a list of 36 complaints that names all five incumbents, as well as a couple of resellers and friend-of-the-Great-White-North, Barrett Xplore (the source of the longest running complaint) – with ever-popular Rogers racking up half (17) of the 36 complaints.”

    I hope they have the good sense to follow your suggestion and retract – but that would surprise me. Instead, my guess is they have a healthy dose of the Streisand effect to look forward to.

  3. “Did.”,”Did not!”,”Did too!”
    No doubt they’ll try again. It’s sad to watch so many people choke on the truth.

  4. “Any press is good press”
    …except when its bad press. I can hardly sympathize with the Xplornet response, and agree with Mr. Ellis. I look forward to any Streisand effect and ensuing fallout. As a relatively small fish, I can’t see them trying to make a legal claim of it, but I would be amused (and VERY supportive of Mr. Geist) if it were to happen.

  5. How dare they dish it out to our saintly blogger. So what if he doesn’t get his facts straight. It’s the rhetoric that counts.

  6. A forced customer
    As a customer of them (I don’t have a choice – only provider in my area until 2013), this is typical of them. Customer support is well trained in the blame game and not fixing their issues until pressed with proof.

  7. Un-Trusted Computing says:

    Care to have another cup of coffee and try again?

    Not really sure how there’s any spouting of rhetoric or factual omissions. There was a list of Net Neutrality complaints, he posted it.

    I realize there are certainly free passes given out by some supporters, but I don’t really see how that’s the case here.

  8. @Bob

    Actually he just posed a table listing which ISP’s had complaints agains them. Seems like pretty straight facts comapred to your “So what if he doesn’t get his facts straight.”

    From the original article

    “I recently filed an Access to Information request to learn more about what has been taking place behind the scenes. A review of hundreds of pages of documents discloses that virtually all major Canadian ISPs have been the target of complaints”

  9. @Bob “How dare they dish it out to our saintly blogger.”

    Cue the Geist haters, but I suppose some of them might still be on vacation.

  10. Teehe, Bob’s comments demonstrates quite well the amount of empty rhetoric that exists on the other side of the debate claiming that there is an abundance of empty rhetoric on this side of the debate.

    Does that make any sense? Don’t answer. It’s a rhetorical question. 😉

  11. R. Bassett Jr. says:

    Xplornet replacing Canopy with “4G” – and charging more for less!
    I would like to know if it is legal that Xplornet is dicontinuing their Motorola Canopy based internet service in favor of their “4G” service, even though they never used the Canopy to its full potential? Here’s why it’s important.

    1. The Canopy modules are capable of 10Mbs on a 2.4GHz radio or 3.5Mbs on a 900MHz radio, yet even the most expensive business package was throttled to a max sustained download speed of 1Mbs. So they never even attempted to use this hardware, that we paid for in tax dollars, to it full potential. Likely because they were too cheap to add more transceivers to their towers and use the color coding system Motorola designed for high density areas. Instead, they just said “oh it’s over subscribed, so we need to throttle”…

    2. The “4G” packages are outragously expensive. $49.99/m for 10GB of data usage with a $3.50/GB overage charge. Compare that to what I am paying now, $45/m for unlimited GB (yet slow as hell) and no overage charge. Sadly, the Xplornet pricing is almost identical to both Bell and Rogers 4G home internet packages.

    3. They still don’t guarantee minimum download speeds that are,

    A. Any better than what the Motorola Canopy is capable of delivering.
    B. Actually useful for time sensitive things like video and audio streaming.

    Why? Well, because Xplornet throttles connections after the first 3MB of data. Check out their chart for the Canopy here,

    As a person who likes to play online games, like World of Warcraft, I was excited when Xplornet built a tower 250 feet from my house six or seven years ago. However, since then I’ve experienced literally years of service that was not even usable (20,000 -twenty thousand- ping in WoW = wasted game subscription fees…), no matter how often I complained about it. In fact, I even cancelled and used my 2G cell phone as modem for a few months, until my wife was upset that our internet was with my when I was at work and she was at home. So I have been back with Xplornet for another two years and it wasn’t until two months ago, after a very lengthy complaint, that the service is actually delivering on its advertised usage pattern (and 100-1,000 ping in WoW).

    Now, I am waiting for them to tell me how the Canopy service has been discontinued in my area, so I can tell them to go fuck themselves. However, what I would really like to do is make them return our tax dollars. We have a shortage of day care spaces, housing for the homeless, and new equipment for our public services (Fire/Police/Hospitals). Spending money on any of these things would be a better alocation of resources than allowing Xplornet to simply not bother using their hardware to its full potential, because hey, they can provide sub-par service at a premium price and make money hand over fist in the process instead.

    Also, by comparison a person who lives 500 meters north of me can get Bell DSL internet for $49.99, which gives them 75GB of usage and a max monthly bill of $80 due to overage. A “4G” Xplornet customer would have to pay $277.99 per month just to GET TO 75GB of usage. How in the hell is that right?

    It makes me very angry that the CRTC said Bell/Shaw/Cogeco must expand their wired internet services, yet Bell can’t be bothered to upgrade this area another 1Km so that everyone on the road has options other than [Slow Xplornet Wireless] and [Rip Off HSPA+ Bell/Rogers/Xplornet]. Also, Cogeco apperently refuses to let anyone else access or connect to their infrastructure, so Teksavvy can’t offer cable service here. I cancelled our Cogeco TV a few years ago, the day they sent us a letter saying how the rates were going up due to all the great services they offered – NONE of which were available in my area! I called them and asked if they felt it was appropriate for all of their “rural” customers to be subsidizing their city customers, who can actually subscribe to those services. They said they didn’t care. I said, “Close my account”. Bell satellite works just fine for TV – and that’s the kind of optios we should have in the Internet market as well.

    R. Bassett Jr.

  12. R. Bassett Jr.,
    This is just uncanny. Your situation *exactly* mirrors mine. DSL available 1 to 3 km away. And I have to put up with 20GB “Xplornet”.
    I think there is a conflict of interest with Xplornet. Xplornet partnered with Shaw. Xplornet is doing Shaw a favor, by preventing Xplornet customers from using online tv like Netflix. It’s a really dirty arrangement if you ask me.
    I simply can not believe the crap that these types of companies get away with in Canada.

  13. Xtreme usage meter sucker punch
    Add faulty (in the extreme) usage accounting to the mix.