Traffic Shaping In The UK: Who's Honest And Who's Not...

from the sound-familiar? dept

While we've mostly been focused on the debates over traffic shaping and false advertising in the US with the likes of Comcast and Verizon in the US, there's an interesting parallel over in the UK. Just like Verizon, it appears that Virgin Media's broadband offering is advertised as unlimited, even as the reality suggests quite differently. It's "unlimited within a fair-usage limit." That sounds like "limited" to me. In fact, the article notes, a Virgin Media user paying for unlimited service could find his bandwidth suddenly capped after just 20 minutes of straight downloading. That seems like quite a limit.

Much more interesting, however, is the story of Plusnet, an ISP that was recently bought by BT. It does traffic shaping, but unlike just about every other ISP, is incredibly honest and upfront about what it's doing. This is exactly what many people have been telling Comcast it should do. There are supporters of Comcast's efforts who insist that if Comcast did such a crazy thing as to actually tell its customers what it's doing, it would ruin the whole plan. However, the details from Plusnet show that's not the case at all. Plusnet makes it very clear what it's doing, explains to users what to expect, and even helps them understand when it makes more sense to use high bandwidth applications. According to the few supporters of Comcast out there, this would never work -- and yet, it clearly does work for Plusnet. Not only that, the article notes that Plusnet's customer satisfaction rating has been growing steadily. So, once again, we'll ask what could possibly be wrong with Comcast telling the truth about the fact that it's using traffic shaping to prevent certain actions?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    VirtualLife, Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 3:16pm

    Virgin "Media"

    I might as well point out that Virgin Media is the ISP, not Virgin Mobile.

    The Virgin Media "Traffic Management" policy goes along the lines of, if you download too much between 4pm-12pm your up/down speeds will be limited for up to four hours. That's not bad considering other ISPs, plus Virgin Media actually own their own network unlike most ISPs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mike (profile), Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 3:43pm

    Re: Virgin "Media"

    Oops. Fixed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Joe Smith, Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 3:43pm


    If the ISP can do traffic shaping (usage throttling) when it suits them then why the hell can't they throttle (as in choke) the Spammers?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    DB, Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 3:50pm

    I think the real problem is that if you publish your bandwidth limits, it becomes a point of competition between different providers. At which point you have to start raising bandwidth limits. This is good for the consumer, but bad for the company that has to invest in more hardware to compete.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Ben, Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 4:02pm

    To be fair

    Virgin are perfectly open about what they are doing and publish the limits on their web page and explain how it all works. In practice finding a site that can download 3GB of data to you in 20 minutes is all but impossible. The 3 GB a day limit equates to 90GB a month (more than twice the top offering from plus net) and even if you exceed your daily limit you are only limited to 5Mbps which is as fast as most ADSL broadband goes in the UK anyway. Virgin broadband is expensive but the limits are generous and it is the fastest broadband that I have used in the UK.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Greg K Nicholson, Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 7:04pm

    Some Virgin Media users are not male: “his” should be “their”.

    Also, Virgin Media's limit applies from 4pm to midnight, not 4pm 'til noon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Mike (profile), Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 7:09pm


    Some Virgin Media users are not male: "his" should be "their".

    In US English, the proper word is his. I realize that British English has different rules for pronouns, but in this case (considering we're a US site) "his" is proper. "Their" only works if I was using the plural "users." Since I was using the singular, it is correct if I use either singular pronoun "his" or "her." I chose "his."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 3rd, 2007 @ 7:31pm

    Re: Re:

    Woe is the world where people get all uppity about it being 'male' or 'female'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Ian Wild, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 2:24am

    Virgin's a bit complicated, but thanks for the Nam

    Virgin operate two products in the UK - Cable and ADSL. Most of the problems are with their ADSL network, which they don't own but lease. The costs of this are higher to operate than for their cable network, so they are throttling it to unusable levels by the sounds of it. That's what the complaints are about.

    At times it was a difficult journey for PlusNet (Who I work for) and it took a couple of years of trying to get to the happy medium with our products that we have now. We had to have difficult discussions with some of our customers, but it could have been much worse (The biggest thing we learnt was that we needed to engage and be open with customers about the reality of our own economics). The pain was entirely worth it as we now have a network that is under control, products that are profitable and happy customers who have clear expectations.

    Ian Wild

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Joe Bloggs, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 3:06am

    Re: Spam

    It is rather difficult to throttle incoming connections and a lot easier to shape your outgoing traffic. Besides, I wouldn't like my ISP deciding what is spam an what is not for me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Dec 4th, 2007 @ 5:08am

    Re: Re:

    Mike, your usage is correct in both the US and in the UK.

    The political correctness madness in the UK has lead to morons using "their" when trying to be genderless in sentences and not using he/she.

    They forget that "their" is a form of the possessive case of "they" but as are referring to a single user in your sentence it's quite correct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Ken, Dec 8th, 2007 @ 10:05pm

    Re: Spam

    Throttling spammers is a relatively new concept, but it is very effective. Ask your ISP to install the Traffic Control software from MailChannels (

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Art reisman, Dec 12th, 2007 @ 7:28pm

    The Business of throttling

    I am the CTO of a company that provides arms to ISPs allowing them to set bandwidth controls. I covered this subject objectively in detail in a recent PC MAG article, not sure if it is ok to post the link or not but here it is. The content is very relevant.,1895,2155140,00.asp

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    eli riles, Dec 22nd, 2007 @ 11:37am

    Re: Re: Spam

    The NetEqualizer product shapes connections and traffic in both directions. I am not sure what you mean by not easy ?

    I don't think any of the larger ISPs use this utility (NetEuqlizer) to shape with. Most are very tight lipped. Sandvine is used to re-direct p2p (to keep it on a providers network to save money.) I believe many of the larger ISPs in the US utilize Sandivine.

    You also might want to check out this article. It talks about all the techniques ISPs use to mess with traffic and the morals of such usage.,1895,2155140,00.asp

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    toker, Dec 30th, 2007 @ 4:27pm

    The point of this is meerly being missed isps yes do throttle after 20 - 30 minutes of constant dloading but theres a darker side to this throttling the fact that a bt up to 8 mb connection will never go above 500kb/s ruffly the speed of the first broadband speed ever introduced to customers yet they r charging more for this pathetic connection!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    dakn, Jul 24th, 2008 @ 12:58am

    Re: To be fair

    Sounds like you work for Virgin Media!
    It is extremely easy to download 3GB but why are you saying it has to be in 20 minutes? you can't download more than 3GB A DAY without being throttled. And as for the "they are perfectly open" statement that is untrue. What they say is: "we sometimes moderate the speeds for the top 5% of customers" but say it's your first day of owning VM broadband and you download a large file YOU WILL BE THROTTLED!! so their openess is made up of total lies.

    I hope their 50Mb service completely fails. Who in their right mind would want to pay for a top enthusiast level BB that you can't even use when the rest of the country is awake....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 24th, 2008 @ 1:06am

    Re: Re:

    "In US English, the proper word is his. I realize that British English has different rules for pronouns"

    That's the funniest thing I've ever heard - "British English"

    It's ENGLISH! you know, a language you took from ENGLAND and completely screwed up just like every other language you try to adopt but choose to say most words incorrectly.
    For such a large coutry you would have thought you could have come up with your own language.

    The worste thing is that now with the constant flow of American TV in the UK my kids are learning to speak this nonsense!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    mark, Jul 30th, 2008 @ 3:26am

    Plus Net may be 'proud of their traffic shaping but they apply restrictions well before the user limit ( and I mean well before ). Forget awards - many of them are partisan e.g Switchto get commisssion from the big providers. As a technician I would avoid these ( particularly as they are BT now )and would advise my clients to switch from Virgin of they are with them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    David Jones, Dec 15th, 2008 @ 7:00pm

    Traffic shaping

    I can tell you something now, this 4pm-12am is bullshit for a start, they throttle you when they believe you have downloaded to much, i needed to download a database from a server machine at work, which is why i have 20mb in the first place, because this database was huge i thought i would start at 12am and then it could be done over night and into the morning as there are no usage limits, sure it was fine during the night but come morning, 11am to be exact, i was capped to 5mbit for 7 hours!!!!!!

    Now in all honesty how the hell can they sell a product that you quite clearly can not use for what its intended, i mean why else would you want 20mbit residential internet if it isn't to have/use a big data stream for what ever reason or purpose and now they bring out 50mb, whats it gonna be capped to 10meg when you have downloaded 10gb.....utterly pointless, i don't know why they/we even bother, i have a good mind to report them to trading standards or the isp governing body ofcom is it?

    this connection was great on telewest, no problems what so ever, as soon as Branson and these ntl morons get a wiff it all goes to shit

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    injection molding, May 20th, 2009 @ 5:32am

    nice topic!

    As we all know, nearly almost plastic products around you was made through plastic injection molding – the mouse you are using to click, the PET containers you use to store water or food, and also China printing can help us made the labels to attract potential customers and steel and aluminum made scaffolding made for the purpose of construction and renovation works.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 9th, 2009 @ 10:23am

    Branson is a tool

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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