|Jeez, a high-speed Internet user can't seem to get any respect these days.It's bad enough that Rogers Cable Inc. has, at best, provided spotty service for thousands of its cable-modem subscribers over the past year, but now the cable company's network storm troopers are sending warning shots to people who have personal servers set up on their computers.First, let me start with a simple definition of a server: software that allows a computer in a network to be shared by multiple computers. A Web server, for example, is software that might host a bunch of Web site pages that can be accessed by anybody through the Internet. A video server could be used to deliver streaming video over the Web or any video-on-demand service.Some servers, such as video servers, would use up huge amounts of network capacity because massive digital files hog bandwidth. But a personal server 覧 say, something set up to allow the occasional transfer of documents between a home and office computer 覧 might take up no more capacity than e-mails with jpg attachments.Apparently, Rogers doesn't make a distinction between capacity-sucking servers and personal servers set up for occasional or light use. In an e-mail making its rounds to certain customers, Rogers makes this point clear:"It has been brought to our attention that your provisioned IP address is being used to operate a server on the Rogers network," the e-mail reads, before citing section 7 (k) of the service agreement, which forbids servers that are used for e-mail, news, files, chat and Web sites, as well as gopher and telnet applications."Your account will be checked in the future," the e-mail continues, with an Orwellian tone. "To avoid any interruption in service, please remove all servers immediately while connected to the Rogers network."First, I must say that a contract is a contract, and if people don't investigate what they are getting into before signing up, then que sera. On the other hand, what is Rogers thinking? I mean, what does this company expect people to use high-speed service for? Text-only e-mail messages? Web sites with no pictures? And why are they sending in the storm troopers now? It's not like file-swapping services such as Morpheus, which creates a personal server on your hard drive, just appeared overnight."I use (my personal server) to transfer files from work to home," writes one Rogers customer on an online forum that is abuzz with discussion over the issue. This particular customer received his warning shot last month. "I use it maybe three times a month. In fact, the last time I uploaded multiple files in one day was Jan. 14, 2002, when I uploaded 29 files totalling a whopping 2.67 megabytes."Just for comparison, 2.67 megabytes typically takes up less bandwidth than a single MP3 song.The customer continues: "I had the server for almost three years . . . and no one gave a hoot. Suddenly Rogers, on its own now, is cracking down."Chris Weisdorf, president and technical director of the Residential Broadband Users' Association, is unhappy with Rogers' recent activities, but so far, he says, people have only been threatened 覧 not disconnected 覧 for operating personal servers.He maintains that Section 7(k) was always intended to catch abusers of servers, not casual users."Disallowing subscribers from running casual services on their own computers, in light of the fact that the servers aren't affecting their fellow subscribers' service, is vile, draconian and totally unnecessary. This action serves no purpose, except to annoy, anger and irritate subscribers," wrote Weisdorf on the RBUA's Web site.Weisdorf recently held a meeting with members of Rogers' management and was told the e-mail warnings were a knee-jerk reaction to a recent burst of traffic on the network that overloaded a number of cable modems. He said Rogers planned to continue scanning the network for servers, though management said it fully intends to let people run personal servers for casual use.He likened Rogers' actions to a "scare tactic."If you ask me, I'd say Rogers is conducting market research.Think about it. Last month, the company announced that its Rogers Internet Lite service would be available in April, giving people a medium-speed connection to the Internet. And unlike dial-up, you don't need to tie up the phone line. For $24.95 (if you're already a Rogers cable customer), you get 128 kilobits per second download speeds and 64 kbps upload speeds.Reports suggest that Rogers is also preparing to launch a premium service above and beyond its standard cable-modem product. This service might cost between $70 and $100 a month, and would be geared toward 覧 who else? 覧 people who run servers on their computers and take up more bandwidth than the average user.Rogers may indeed have traffic spikes in its network, but I doubt a few households downloading movie and music files off the Internet would be enough to cause panic, and as result, mass e-mail warnings. My guess is that Rogers is scanning the computers of all 480,000 users to find out who operates a server, and therefore, who would be more likely to pay for a premium service.The e-mail warning could be a nudge, prompting well-meaning bandwidth bandits to sign up for a higher-tiered service 覧 thereby avoiding the future wrath of Rogers' storm troopers.Where's a Jedi when you need him?
Tyler Hamilton writes about issues in the world of technology and the Internet every Monday in @Biz. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org