Canadian ISP Rogers throttles World of Warcraft

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Customers of Canadian ISP Rogers have been complaining for months that performance of the MMORPG game World of Warcraft has been poor and sluggish even though Rogers’ network appears to be operating just fine. Canada’s Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) sent a formal inquiry to Rogers asking what was going on, and now Rogers has come out with a flat-out admission (PDF): it is using traffic management and traffic-shaping technologies that interfere with World of Warcraft. And the company doesn’t expect the problem will be remedied until June.

“Our tests have determined that there is a problem with our traffic management
equipment that can interfere with World of Warcraft,” Rogers wrote in its response to the CRTC. “We have determined that the problem occurs only when our customers are simultaneously using peer-to-peer file sharing applications and running the game. Therefore we recommend turning off the peer-to-peer setting in the World of Warcraft game and ensuring that no peer-to-peer applications are running on any connected

The confusing apparently comes from Blizzard’s release of Blizzard Update technology that relies on BitTorrent to supply behind-the-scenes game updates to WoW players rather than force them to get offline and install standalone updates. Using Blizzard Updater enables players to get game updates transparently on an as-needed basis, meaning users can transparently continue playing even as their game is receiving updates. WoW has been using P2P technology for years, but only recently implemented a change that enabled downloads while the game is running. Standalone WoW updates are still available from Blizzard.

The incident isn’t the first time Rogers has been accused of blocking Internet traffic. Rogers customers have consistently accused the ISP of downgrading P2P traffic, and as P2P streams have become more difficult to identify, other non-VPN forms of encrypted traffic seem to have been impacted by the same data-hampering. When Skype launched in Canada a few years ago, the application also ran afoul of Roger’s traffic management system.

Rogers says it is working with Blizzard to resolve the problem, but doesn’t expect it will have a fix in place until June 2011.

Under Canadian law, there’s nothing to prevent an ISP from throttling traffic at levels will below a connection’s capability, so long as the ISP is transparent to customers about its practices. However, the CRTC recently came under fire for approving broadband data caps as low as 25GB/month; the CTRC later reversed the decision, although the issue of data caps in Canada is far from resolved.