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The Lawbringer: Letters to Rogers, letters to Congress

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

We've got two stories to talk about on The Lawbringer today, both interestingly involving letters. That's right -- letters. To you from me, that sort of thing. These letters, however, are instruments of change in a world where we as consumers seem not to have much control or ability to change the big picture concepts that dot our path to consistent entertainment. The amount of energy that we have to put into just getting in a decent WoW session is staggering at times.

The first story revolves around Rogers, one of the largest Canadian internet service providers, famous for its lame bandwidth caps and my old Canadian guildmates shouting "Rogers sucks!" as much as they could on Mumble. Yes, it is another chapter in the Mathew McCurley Guide to Awful Bandwidth Throttling -- but hopefully, this new information and story chapter will get us on the path to better WoW experiences in the face of the immense throttling of WoW data as peer-to-peer traffic.

The second story is all about letters that you will want to send. Last week, I wrote The Lawbringer about Senate Bill S.978, colloquially being referred to as the anti-streaming bill. While not directly prohibiting video game streaming or even mentioning video games anywhere in the proposed legislation, video games are nonetheless obliterated in the crossfire of the entertainment industry and would-be illegal streamers making millions off of pirated entertainment, movies, music, and more. The Entertainment Consumers Association has begun a letter-writing campaign to inform and implore Congress to not pass a bill with such broad and language lacking description.

Peer-to-peer problems continue

For months, I had worked with ISP technicians, Blizzard blues, and anyone willing to lend a helping hand to figure out why World of Warcraft was being throttled on some ISPs here on the east coast (and potentially other areas). Even in the presence of a multitude of threads on the official technical support forums, people denied any type of throttling, and even players who worked for many ISPs came out and fought the notion that throttling existed anywhere. Over time, it became apparent that the change to the peer-to-peer sharing mechanisms behind the WoW launcher and update process were tripping off something at big ISPs. WoW traffic looked like file sharing traffic and was being artificially slowed down, resulting in high ping times at peak hours and an unplayable game for thousands of customers.

Then, the most interesting thing happened. In February 2011, a Canadian WoW player on the Rogers network, one of Canada's largest ISPs, was upset at the terrible service and slow speeds at which WoW was running on the network. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission demanded that Rogers look into the issue, and sure enough, Rogers admitted to throttling WoW traffic in the exact manner that peer-to-peer traffic was being handled. However, Rogers said that WoW data was being throttled by accident, due to the nature of their throttling infrastructure. Sounds eerily familiar to what was happening in the United States, except without the admission of throttling in the first place.

Rogers was instructed by the Commission to give an update on May 10, 2011, as to whether the issue of accidental throttling was being taken care of or if the issue had finally been resolved for so many paying customers just trying to play their game (not share files, legal or otherwise). On May 31, Rogers replied to the commission that there was a plan in the works and roll-out would happen as soon as it was ready. It didn't work, and in some cases, made the throttling and lag problems worse.

The commission gets bossy

This is when the back-and-forth began. Rogers disagreed with the notion that things were worse and that its fixes to the system had been successful, as it did not receive any calls during the months of May and June about the issue or concerning problems with World of Warcraft traffic. The commission was not persuaded by Rogers' reply.

The commission then sent this July 13, 2011 letter to Ken Thompson, director and counsel for Rogers, demanding a full accounting and results of software tests that shows that WoW traffic is not experiencing lag problems or traffic packet inspection that would cause players these horrible instances of game play. Rogers has until July 25 to respond, and if it fails to reply, the commission could start a public proceeding to investigate the matter on its own.

The continuing fight against bandwidth throttling

Many of us are inconvenienced by bandwidth throttling issues, and one day, when ISPs realize that tiered speed and not amount of data is the way to go, we will all live in perfect harmony. Until then, we fight for the right to play our game in the most efficient way possible.

Blizzard has been working with ISPs since this whole debacle started, when the peer-to-peer nature of the new launcher first began. Many ISPs stepped up to the plate and worked with Blizzard to change much of how the game's traffic was handled. AT&T and Time Warner still have problems with deep packet inspection of WoW data at the level3 bridge, and after months of frustration and never getting solid or coherent answers, I left my server entirely for one that never gave me lag issues, since I never passed through those troubled areas. Chicago data center, I do hope you've been getting better over time.

We are at the heart of this change. We as gamers have a right to demand fair treatment from internet service providers. Of course, illegal peer-to-peer traffic should be throttled and punished -- no one is making the case that we shouldn't punish criminals or network hogs. But in the process of blanket, sweeping policies, low bandwidth caps, and shoddy service, we are disrespected and ignored. WoW players wrote these letters to Rogers and the commission. WoW players got the government involved. We are slowly making progress.

ECA's letter writing campaign versus the anti-streaming bill

Before I sign off for this week, I wanted to let you all know about the Entertainment Consumer Association's newest letter-writing campaign to Congress that aims to inform and sway congressional votes away from the over-inclusive amendments to copyright law. I spoke about bill S.978 last week on The Lawbringer, and I personally think it is a pretty good read on what the bill is actually aiming to add jail time to. It is quite clear that video games are not the heart of the bill but could be significantly affected by the broad language the bill adds in punishments for streaming unauthorized content.

You can access the ECA's letter-writing campaign website, which has a simple form you can fill out that gives you a prewritten statement to send to your senators. I urge everyone to do so. Laws are meant to give us clarity and understanding of what is right and wrong and prescribe clear consequences to specific issues. S.978 is nothing but broad language that only clouds up already murky water in the copyright world with respect to video games.

Also, check out the ECA's Facebook group Gamers for Digital Rights, which aims to inform gamers of their rights online. I think that's a pretty worthy thing to think about and promote.

If you've got a topic that you'd like me to discuss on The Lawbringer, email me at mat@wowinsider.com. I'd like to do a few mailbag columns in the near future, so get those questions rolling in and we can see what cool topics land in my email. See you guys next week.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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