Our latest poll attracted over 1,300 responses and shows the very different views which users, service providers and the Advertising Standards Authority may have on what 'moderate throttling' of heavy users should mean. In a judgement upheld last week by the ASA against Virgin Media, it ruled that a 50% reduction in download speed was not moderate, with the response from Virgin Media to reduce the throttle from 50% to 40%.
The key here is that to look back at the rule changes that came into force in April 2012; if traffic management used by Virgin Media is just affecting 2.3% of their customers, then it is probably fair to say that those affected are not the average customer, on a particular day at least.
"Our traffic management policy is designed to ensure a great online experience for everyone so, if you’re downloading a huge amount of data, we’d simply ask you to consider other users in your area and think about downloading outside of peak times. For example, if you’re one of our 120Mb customers, you’d need to be downloading a massive 11,000MB [11GB] of data during the evening rush before you’d reach our traffic management thresholds. And, even if you do, we won’t stop you from downloading or charge you more; it could just take a little longer.
Our customers receive the superfast broadband speeds we advertise and we continue to improve and help drive UK broadband up the global rankings. We strongly agree all broadband providers should have to advertise the speeds they deliver and stop hiding behind ‘unlimited’ claims. We know customers look for download speeds first and foremost and we continue to upgrade millions of Virgin Media customers as part of our innovative speed doubling programme."Virgin Media spokesperson
The issue of providers hiding speeds has got worse since April 2012, though it is worth noting Virgin Media aren't an exception either when it comes to upload speeds which only seem to be available on the traffic management page.
Our poll asked a second question about whether providers should be made to advertise the upload speeds too, and the response was one of the clearest we have ever had in poll, with 9 out of 10 people saying that providers should include upload in the advertising. We hope the ASA takes note.
A common complaint trend we hear is that Virgin Media is slow, their area is congested and that the traffic management is really slowing them down. With our speed tester we are able to get a picture of what end-users are experiencing in their day to day use of the connection, independently of the provider, as any customer at any time can run the test. We spent some time analysing the Virgin Media results over the few weeks prior to the ASA ruling.
A scatter plot of results is shown below (excluding Virgin Media National ADSL services):
The graph (ordered by the upload speed) shows that you can fairly easily split out the Virgin Media customers into the various speed tiers the provider users (120, 100, 60, 30, 20 and 10 Mbps). The number of people on the slower legacy 20 Mbps and 10 Mbps tiers should be shrinking as the speed upgrade programme continues until it is complete this summer.
Observant readers will note some data points that look out of place, however we this is likely to come down to factors such as users on a faster product getting slower uploads do to issues such as local performance issues, wireless connectivity or simply the connection was busy uploading some data to a cloud storage site during the test.
Further analysis of the raw numbers confirms that at least 10% of customers on each tier achieve the advertised headline speed, and thus Virgin Media is within ASA guidelines to advertise using the 30/60/100 figures it uses. The figures for the upload speeds are not as good as they could be but the chart shows the issue particularly for the 100 Mbps service where the upload speeds have two distinct levels of 5 and 10Mbps.
|120 Mbps||100 Mbps||60 Mbps||30 Mbps|
|ASA compliant download speed||124 Mbps||101.1 Mbps||61.6 Mbps||30.8 Mbps|
|ASA compliant upload speed||11.5 Mbps||9.7 Mbps||2.9 Mbps||1.9 Mbps|
|Median download speed||94 Mbps||63.3 Mbps||43.7 Mbps||21.1 Mbps|
|Median upload speed||11.2 Mbps||4.9 Mbps||2.9 Mbps||1.9 Mbps|
It is worth noting that as users' speeds may be slowed down by other use on their connection or wireless interference if using wi-fi in the home, the above are indicative rather than conclusive results, but they certainly support Virgin's speed claims. Overall the speeds are impressive and show that the vast majority of customers benefit significantly from the speed upgrades. If the suggestion that Virgin Media is throttling a lot more customers than the 2.3% it states was true, we would be seeing a distinct dense line around the 50 Mbps area for the 100 Mbps users. There are two small clusters with 60 Mbps and 30 Mbps speeds, which may be customers throttled on the 120 Mbps and 60 Mbps products respectively, but equally this could be due to the speed upgrade programme, as upload and download speeds don't appear to be being upgraded at the same time.
We will keep an eye on the changes over time as with all the other providers, but for now it seems that if you want high speeds at reasonable prices and the Virgin Media cable service still seems to be a good choice, if available in your area, unless you are insisting on downloading many Gigabytes every day and want to hit the connection speed all the time. Even if you end up being throttled on a 60 Mbps connection, you should still run at speeds of around 36 Mbps, well above the UK average.
Update 5th April 2013 The ASA has been in touch and has highlighted that the 40% throttling that applies if the traffic management is triggered has not been approved by the ASA, and therefore is open to investigation if there are further complaints.
"The ASA ruling involving Virgin Media and its “unlimited” claims for broadband does not state that a 40% reduction in download speed is “acceptable”. In fact, the ASA ruling makes no reference whatsoever to that figure. Our ruling clearly states: “We told Virgin Media not to claim that their service was "unlimited" and with "no caps" if they imposed restrictions that were more than moderate.
We have not agreed with Virgin Media that a 40% reduction in “throughput is considered a moderate reduction in speed”. If we receive a complaint about future “unlimited” broadband claims made by Virgin that appear to run contrary to our ruling we will take them seriously and investigate."Response from ASA to original thinkbroadband article
We have updated our article to ensure it does not convey the impression that the ASA has approved the 40% reduction level.