Opinion » Cybernaut


To throttle or not to throttle...



Canadian ISPs throttle. Or at least Bell, Rogers and Shaw do, using software to slow the speed of various downloads and streaming services. Typically they do this for torrent downloads and third-party video services, concerned that heavy users - if there are any of those left after the uncontested (thanks for nothing CRTC) shift to Usage Based Billing - will tie up the network.

The ISPs do have a point about maintaining the network's integrity - or at least they did have a point until they introduced Usage Based Billing (UBB) and started charging customers extra for going over their limits. If my ISP is going to limit me to 250GB a month or whatever, and then charge me a 2,000 per cent markup for every Gig I go over that limit over wholesale rates, then they should at least make sure that I'm getting that 250GB at something approaching their advertised speed. Right?

With UBB in place, continuing to throttle only makes sense in the scope of competition. ISPs may be throttling to improve the performance of competing products that they offer - video on demand, Voice Over IP, etc. - or that their premium-paying corporate customers offer. Companies that also offer cable/satellite television have been accused pretty regularly of trying to protect their core broadcasting business by deliberately making it inconvenient and frustrating to watch television or rent movies over the Internet.

To that end, I'm glad that the CRTC is at least investigating Rogers after the company admitted last week that it might be throttling games - including the popular World of Warcraft online role-playing game. The Canadian Gamers Organization (which falls under the aegis of OpenMedia.ca) said the game lag was noticeable across a wide variety of games, and for PC and console users.

Rogers suggested that people could improve their game speed by ensuring that people weren't downloading/uploading through peer-to-peer networks while playing games online. They also suggested that their network traffic management software, which uses a tool called Deep Packet Inspection - the root of all throttling evil - had made an error by including games in the same category as torrent downloads, and that they would look into the problem.

Gamers took exception with some of Rogers' comments including the assertion that most games run below the 80 kilobits per second speed where the throttling kicks in - some games do require more than that, including busy multiplayer games like the

Call of Duty series.

Companies are allowed to "shape" the Internet based on content, but have to be upfront about their activities. Catching Rogers throttling behind customers' backs may turn into a precedent-setting case.

But, given the recent track record of the CRTC, most likely the precedent will be the opposite of what the public wants.


Save your ass

Last week Pique had a little issue when an air conditioner stopped working and one of our server drives cooked. Everything was backed up and we were in the process of switching up our systems anyway, but once again it drills home the need to have a Plan B. For everything.

Coincidentally, Lifehacker (www.lifehacker.com) posted an article this week on "Can't-Live-Without Tools That Have Saved My Hide."

One interesting tool I'd never heard of was Lazarus: Form Recovery, which is available as an add-on for Firefox and Chrome browsers. Basically, it ensure that you will never lose any information you typed into the field of a website, whether you crash, accidentally hit the back button or something goes screwy after you click "Submit."

Another was a program called PdaNet (www.junefabrics.com) that allow you to use your phone to tether your desktop or laptop to the internet in the event that your home/office internet craps out - which happens more often than I like to admit. If you absolutely have to get something out this service could save your ass.

Dropbox (www.dropbox.com) I already use and love, and SugarSync (www.sugarsync.com) is slightly different and gets high marks as well and does a few things Dropbox does not.

For backup, you can also use a program like CrashPlan (www.crashplan.com) to recover data, and Piriform's Recuva (www.piriform.com/recuva) to recover any files you've accidentally deleted or overwritten somehow.

There are a few other things that people should get. One is Prey (www.preyproject.com), an anti-theft software that allows you to erase your data if your computer or phone is taken and maybe even track it back to the thief.

Another thing that I can't emphasize enough is to turn on the "autosave" or "autorecover" feature in every program you use regularly.  In Microsoft Word, for example, go into Preferences and under the "Save" heading click the box to AutoRecover. The default is 10 minutes, which is usually enough, but there are times when I wish it were five. The files have an .asd extension and are easy to find.

If it's an important file, you might also want to select "Track Changes" under the Tools menu. While it's an annoying feature at times I've used it to find things in files that I've accidentally erased or overwritten in the heat of the moment.