Cogeco Pulls a Comcast


The internet has grown exponentially in the last decade, everybody knows that. The web has quickly grown from a collection of web pages and some mail/ftp/irc/whatever else servers sprinkled here in there, to a massive, multi-gazillion machine network, on which enormous amounts of data is exchange, and now not only in the form of static HTML pages and emails, but increasingly so in the form of high resolution images, high definition video,complex web applications, P2P traffic, and a myriad of other different protocols. People are now carrying the web in their pockets, their backpacks, and many households count more than one computer connected to the internet. Naturally, the growing number of users and uses of this great network exposed the drawbacks of yesterday’s internet, and it has now become apparent that bandwidth is an issue.

To counter-act, ISP have start putting in mesure that restrict abusive use of bandwidth. Imposing bandwidth caps, throttling connections relatively to the time of the day, and encouraging users to save bandwidth are all things that are known to be used by the general public to be used by ISPs worldwide in order to help them keep their margin of profit.

However, some bigger ISPs have taken drastic action, sometimes without notifying their customers, and have in general earned a bad reputation for it. Two of the biggest scandals I can recall are regarding Comcast, one story regarding how Comcast apparently discriminates against the Bittorrent by reset connections that use the latter, and another regarding a much dreaded 250 gig bandwidth cap, which went in effect in October of last year. Torrent Freak is a nice blog to check out if you want to be up to date on all the dirty ISP tricks going on.

I thought we Canadians were out of danger regarding all those nasty ISP practices… apparently not. A couple of months ago by the middle of June approximately, I recieved a cute little letter from Cogeco, one of the major Canadian ISPs and also MY ISP, telling me that the EULA had changed, and that I would be capped to not 250… but 60(!) gigs of monthly bandwith, counting both up and downloads. Angered out of my wits, I took a second to cool down with a cold beverage then started reading the new EULA (which they call a PUA) with haste.

We Control Your Interaction

First off, nothing irregular: you can’t use your connection for anything illegal, you are fully reponsible for whatever happens with your line, bla bla bla. Then things start being wierd. Page 1, last paragraph:

COGECO reserves the right to discontinue access to any Usenet newsgroup at any time for any reason.

Could this be censorship? Usenet is long gone… but newsgroup these days pretty much refers to any online community or forum. Normally, when you reserve yourself a right, you need to explain it. If the “for any reason” part had been replaced with a valid reason, say: “if the newsgroup contains content that violate prior points of the PUA”, then I would have been happy. But they gave themselves way too much latitude. Anyways, they aren’t blocking my boards, so I can live with that part for now.

No Sharing

Next up, page 2, paragraph 3:

The residential Customer may not run programs or servers which provide network service to others. Examples of prohibited programs include, but are not limited to mail, http, ftp, irc, dhcp servers, and multi-user interactive forums.

Again, this is grossly outdated. The internet is all about sharing… why take away people’s rights to share content on their on machines. Not everybody can afford web hosting, and easily deployable FTP and HTTP servers are readily available, so why not? From what  I understand, Cogeco understands this because they do not block incoming ports for these protocols, it might be that for them, this part of the PUA is just an additional security. Again, unless my personal web server is taken any time soon, I’m not going to bitch.


Now for the troubling part, page 2, paragraph 6:

COGECO, in its sole discretion, may, at any time and without prior notice, take any actions deemed appropriate if the Customer exceeds the prescribed bandwidth limitations set out on the, website for each Service plan, or to preserve the integrity of its network. Such actions include, but are not limited to, the imposition of the additional charges mentioned on the website, temporary or permanent removal of content, cancellation of newsgroup posts, discontinuing access to any Usenet newsgroup, filtering of Internet transmissions, and the immediate suspension, discontinuance, limitation or termination of the Services.

Put simply, if you abuse of your bandwidth, they can find out why, and block what they don’t like, otherwise just dump you altogether. Thing is, Cogeco blocks the BitTorrent protocol, wether or not you have raped your bandwidth, something that they fail to mention in their PUA. Check out that torrent-relating study again; who’s the second worst ISP for blocking torrents? Yup, you guessed it. Not only is descrimination torwards traffic something that is totally anti-neutral and disrespectful of the customer’s rights, it’s also pretty darn unethical to not mention the limitations of your service before selling it. Not cool.

We Can Rat You Out

And finally, the final scare, the one that'll leave your blood chilled.

COGECO may cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the investigation of suspected violations to any applicable laws, regulation, public AUP or order of a public authority having jurisdiction. Such cooperation may include COGECO providing the Customer's username, IP address, or other information based on reasonable evidence and/or receipt of warrant. Upon termination of the Services, COGECO is authorized to delete any files, programs, data and E-mail messages associated with the Customer’s account. COGECO, in its sole discretion, will determine what action will be taken in response to a violation on a case-by-case basis. Violations of this AUP may also subject the account holder(s) to criminal or civil liability.

Username? Fine, a username can be perfectly anonymous. IP? Yeah, chances are the police already have it anyways. OTHER INFORMATION? What kind of OTHER INFORMATION may I ask? My name? The credit card number I pre-authorized my billing with, my civic address, any other information you are likely to have on me? Well so much for professional secrecy. With these rules down on paper, how easy would it be for Mr. Joe Average to call up the customer service pretending to be Sargent Average of the RCMP, and snatch pieces of my confidential information? While I agree that this mesure could be specially useful for catching the real vermine of the internet, those who run juvenile porn distribution networks and other users who share distasteful and illegal content, an ISP which has been trusted with the task of supplying a line shouldn't be able to rat out a customer. I've said it before and I'll say it again: may it be for telephone, internet or whatever else service, the service provider has the duty of remaining strictly a middleman. Not necessarily one without rules, but like any doctor or lawyer they should keep any info they have been trusted with between their own hands at all costs.

Bottom line: if you can go with any other ISP, do so. Sadly, funky zonage in Quebec gives Cogeco the monopoly over some areas, but don't allow yourself to be played. Cogeco is downhill in my book... and you never know when it's gonna snowball even more.