Is Rogers Setting A Benchmark for Net Neutrality Policies?

Rogers.NoWeDont.180px It all started when I attended the June 2 Android launch on Rogers Wireless. During a scrum I had asked “Fringe” actor Joshua Jackson if he had made a call from Paris, France to his wife in Vancouver using Skype for Android (Skype Lite). Rogers Wireless CMO John Boynton interjected that Rogers allows all applications to run on their networks; the inability to run Skype was an issue that required Skype’s initiative to resolve (there’s a regulatory issue). Later during a demonstration of the Android when I had noticed the Skype Lite beta icon on one of the HTC Android phones, a Rogers marketing person volunteered that Rogers does not block any applications.

Fast forward to the Canadian Telecom Summit two weeks later when recently appointed Rogers CEO Nadir Mohamed made similar points about Rogers policy on network management during his leadoff keynote presentation. But it was during a Net Neutrality forum presentation the following day by Rogers Chief Strategy Office Mike Lee that we got to the meat of the topic; three of his slides articulate the story:

NetNeutrlty.PoorlyDefined

followed by:

NetworkMngmnt.PoorlyUndrstd

followed by:

Rogers.NoWeDont

In his commentary, Mike pointed out that the focus of Rogers’ network management policy is on optimizing the behavior of the network such as to give customers the response they expect. Other points Mike made:

  • In today’s world a service provider needs to deliver the best possible experience for the broadest range of customers.
  • Rogers primary business is providing Internet access in a market that has a focus on speed and accessibility.
  • Rogers is not in the business of managing applications or specific customer uses.
  • Rogers’ traffic management is designed specifically so that Skype works well.
  • The only throttling of traffic relates to p2p file sharing traffic (i.e. BitTorrent) to which a dedicated channel is assigned so that p2p traffic does not swamp the network and interfere with other customers’ access to the network.
  • In response to query from the audience, Rogers only provides network management for their retail customers. Any MVNO using the Rogers backbone via a wholesale arrangement gets the “raw” Internet and must establish their own network management practices.

Mike’s presentation was followed by Skype’s Christopher Libertelli, Director of North American Government Relations, making Skype’s usual pitch supporting network neutrality. The final forum participant was Dave Caputo, CEO of Sandvine, a provider of network infrastructure software focused on improving the quality of customer experience. Dave’s main point was that an unmanaged network does not equate to network neutrality; however, Internet service providers have the most to gain from permitting the diversity that attracts the most customers.

In the end all three agreed that a focus on the customer experience, while managing the network only to the level of protecting the network’s integrity while achieving customer satisfaction, will make a sustainable win-win for both the network operator and the end user.

But the Rogers’ approach to network management really hit home when, the day after the forum, I found a post by Skype’s Director of EU Government Relations, Jean-Jacques Sahel, “’You touch my Skype, you touch my freedom of expression and communication’ – access to the Internet recognised as a fundamental human right (at last)” where it appears the European Parliament is at odds with individual European governments over net neutrality issues.

EU law should ensure that citizens can exercise their freedom of expression and communication and can benefit from Internet access that is open, taking into account the requirements expressed by users to make use of, and distribute, content, applications and services on the Internet. Access to Internet content, services and applications, as confirmed by the French Conseil Constitutionnel, is an explicit part of the fundamental rights of citizens to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference and regardless of frontiers. Additionally, unrestricted Internet access to content, services and applications is also a necessity for the preservation of the effectiveness of European and national policies designed to combat social exclusion, promote education, training, employment, etc.

Seems like some European carriers have not quite yet got the message being put forward by Rogers – these operators can’t quite deal with the gradual shift in power from the carrier to the consumer.

My own experience: When I am able to run SlingPlayer for BlackBerry over Rogers 3G service, whereas AT&T feels that this application would overload their network, I am getting the response I expect. When Skype video calling runs such that, on full screen mode, I feel the other party appears to be “across the desk” I am getting the response i expect. When Rogers is offering WiFi-based services that complement their 3G network service I get the response I expect (hello Verizon!).

Bottom line: Under new CEO Nadir Mohammed Rogers’ focus is on the customer experience as their ultimate sustainable advantage. Their network management practices address network integrity issues: spam, viruses, denial of service attacks and ensuring that p2p file sharing does not deprive others of their expected service level. They simply do not have the time nor resources to worry about “limiting” or manipulating access to Internet traffic based on applications or offerings.

Certainly there are still issues outstanding at Rogers with respect to, say, roaming charges and length of contracts. But, in response to my question to Nadir about roaming charges, he stated there is currently a disconnect when there is such a disparity between local and roaming “per MB” data charges. However, he continued by saying that this is an area that Rogers is reviewing. In fact, Alec Saunders found a “customer service fairy” when he called Rogers this past week in anticipation of a forthcoming trip to the U.S. On the other hand, Alec would like to see increased upload speeds for the coming flood of video applications. (DOCSIS 3.0, anyone?)

In summary, Rogers appears to be establishing a world-leading benchmark for adhering to application-agnostic net neutrality policies in practice; they are not simply mouthing the network neutrality message but also executing on it.

Footnotes:

  • My thanks to Rogers CSO Mike Lee for providing me with a copy of slides used at his Net Neutrality forum presentation at the Canadian Telecom Summit.
  • Rogers WiFi-based services include participation in the Canadian HotSpot Network and Rogers TalkSpotTM service that allows one to make voice calls via any WiFi access point in Canada for a fixed monthly fee.

(As for the issues Skype is facing with respect to offering SkypeIn, Skype To Go, Skype for iPhone and Skype for BlackBerry in Canada – that will be the subject of another post. But they are NOT Rogers issues.)

Full disclosure: the author is a full paying Rogers customer for all their services: wireless, cableTV, high speed Internet and Home Phone.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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8 Responses to Is Rogers Setting A Benchmark for Net Neutrality Policies?

  1. Dave June 29, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    This is good news indeed – however, I still don't quite buy into it, when Rogers stops intercepting DNS requests and displaying their "search" page filled with advertising if a DNS request takes longer than a few milliseconds, then I'll believe they are all for net nutrality.

    Case in point – most times when I'm at home on Rogers, it takes me 5-10 tries to get my blog to load up – I got so frustrated I just edited the hosts file on my computer so I could always get it, regardless of Rogers intercepting my DNS requests.

    • Jim Courtney June 30, 2009 at 12:37 am #

      Dave, thanks for your comments. Having been a Rogers Internet customer for almost ten years, I have never noticed that the Rogers "search" page which comes up for incorrect website names has interfered with any of my browsing activities. In fact, it only comes up when I do a lousy job of spelling a URL out. This website always comes up the first time I try (unless my hosting service has a server disruption … which has become much less frequent lately).

      And since it only addresses issues when a URL is mispelled, it has nothing to do with the policy on net neutrality. In your own way you make the point Mike was trying to make with his first slide. The first goal here is to define what is meant by net neutrality. Replacing the Google page for mis-spelled URL's is has nothing to do with net neutrality when it comes to having access to applications.

  2. CowMan August 26, 2009 at 4:46 am #

    Jim, if you've never seen the Rogers search page come up for valid domains, then you are lucky. Just myself, I was seeing it a couple times an hour before switching to a root DNS.

    Is it a matter of net neutrality? Certainly. Rather than returning NXDOMAIN, as is generally accepted practice (and allows your browser to decide – Firefox, for example, tries different extensions (facebook.ca, facebook.com, facebook.org) and Opera gives a notice page), Rogers returns their own search results (Google's mis-spelled domain services are not universal, btw).

    Rather than returning an expected value (domain doesn't exist) it returns ad-filled search results. It has injected content into your browsing experience.. while your browser still has access, yes, it does not have the same level of access because it doesn't receive valid non-existent domain notifications. It really is just like calling someone who isn't there, but instead of getting voice mail, you get a telemarketer trying to sell you bounty towels.

    While it'd be nice if their claims were true, all I see from the claims outlined here and the slides is that they are trying to gloss over derogatory traffic management issues by redefining net neutrality to be about applications rather than all transmissions. If you use distributed transfer methods or encrypted transmissions, you will be throttled – that is not net neutrality. The individual applications may not be targeted, but the data they share is.

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