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The public does not think 40% is a moderate level of throttling.
Thursday 04 April 2013 15:33:18 by Andrew Ferguson

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%.

Poll Results: What the public consider moderate throttling
Click image for larger version

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.

Poll Results: Should upload speeds be advertised?
(click image for larger version)

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):

Virgin Media broadband speed test scatter plot
Upload speeds are the solid coloured line
(click image for larger version)

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.

Metric Product Tier
  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.


Posted by James1o1o over 4 years ago
The thing I don't get is, that Virgin constantly claim only 1% of their users ever hit the "cap". If so, why do they even both having a traffic management system? Surely those 1% of users wouldn't bring their entire network to a halt now would they? Unless of course Virgin are lying about that 1%.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
Actually Virgin claim 2.3% and have done for a few months.

If Virgin was lying massively and it was say 50% hitting the cap each day, then we would expect the scatter plot to show it, particularly as the reduction is just on the download, so ordering by upload will still show them.
Posted by jrawle over 4 years ago
On their "speeds explained" page, it discusses the high download speeds, then says, "What can you do with it?" It lists three things, one of which is, "Upload photos to Facebook faster." No mention of upload speeds, which are significantly lower than on BT Infinity, for example. In my mind this is highly misleading.
Posted by camieabz over 4 years ago
I think I voted 50% as moderate, but I based it on the assumption that the heaviest users are consuming a far greater ratio of bandwidth than non-heavy users.

The bottom line is that a supplier supplies a service to all, and will strive to provide that service to all. If a small minority can affect that service for the rest, they should expect their service to be managed accordingly.
Posted by camieabz over 4 years ago

The light users pay far more than the heavy users if we're analysing usage from a £s per GB perspective. The heavy users might keep that in mind if complaining about heavy usage throttling in a low-cost scenario.
Posted by GMAN99 over 4 years ago
camieabz, so if you offered me a piece of your apple pie and I took half you wouldn't be annoyed as I'd only taken a moderate portion of the whole pie? :o)
Posted by adslmax over 4 years ago
Virgin Media percent in traffic management is misleading. 40% reduced from 60 Meg are 36 Meg but my 60 Meg is reduced to 11 Meg for 5 hours! Virgin Media put 40% reduction but that a lie!
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
So ADSLmax got the before, during and after speed test results?
Posted by stanman24 over 4 years ago
How would adslmax differentiate between throttling and contention ?
Posted by herdwick over 4 years ago
The 10% reduction voters are a bit optimistic, the 10% slowdown is probably the level of ordinary contention on a shared broadband network so it's hardly going to work as a restraint on the high users.
Posted by bartman007 over 4 years ago
Companies should put a cap on how many customers they have not on the over populated service, they should learn how to run a business and not a huge profit for the share holders.
Posted by uniquename over 4 years ago
The legal requirement placed on all public companies is to act in the best interests of their shareholders.

If they know how to run a business that is what they do.
Posted by pcoventry76 over 4 years ago
pah 40% down and 75% up at the same time. They excited me lastnight my internet went off and modem denied for 12 hours. Nothing on service page and account online gone I thought they had cut me off. No such luck!
Posted by stanman24 over 4 years ago
lol many satisfied customers here

where is worldofadsl when you need him !
Posted by weegiegeek over 4 years ago
The STM is quite reasonable, in my opinion. Having 60mbit for a few hours rather than 100mbit is still really fast, and heavy downloaders can still download a lot during off-peak times.

I'm a new VM customer, having ditched Be. No FTTx in my area, and while I'd like higher upload speeds than we currently get, it's pretty decent, *IN MY AREA*. As can be seen on the VM forum, some areas are horrifically oversubscribed...
Posted by gsituffers1 over 4 years ago
not to rant about it - 2.6 terabytes average a month is what you can do on 50/100 mb bb and this cust received several detrimental usage letters and was being traffic managed also so could you do this on an adsl speed bb - average on 3 months usage
Posted by drummerjohn over 4 years ago
Again, the point is that the VM network must be heavily over subscribed for the TM to be put in place if only 2.3% of the customers are going to hit it. You don't put in daftly low allowances because 2.3% are affecting your network.

Also, VM optimise the routes to speedtest sites. They will tell you to use particular servers (Namesco) on the website.
Posted by stanman24 over 4 years ago
aye when I was virgin media the only times I maxed out my connection was using their news groups, other than newsgroups everything was permanently throttled
Posted by LT38 over 4 years ago
This is crap virgin media have been traffic managing those of us in Plymouth that are on ubr 31 every day since 2010 due to it being over subscribed. I dont think i have ever had what i pay for
Posted by otester over 4 years ago
Why complain? Just leave...
Posted by weegiegeek over 4 years ago
Nice conspiracy theory, drummerjohn.

@ LT38 - you've been subjected to congestion, caused by oversubscription. That's different from traffic management.

@gsituffers1 - where are you getting 2.6TB from?
Posted by pcoventry76 over 4 years ago
I did 2.6TB in a month in Jan on 120. However I got a letter today saying that the 1.6TB I had done in 3 months was too much and that I was going to be traffic managed. I was offered a free way out which I called up and took

FU VM! SO nice to be able to use YouTube again!

And I am sure your letter will be of interest to someone. Maybe the press? Even with the ASA ruling on your website you STILL state "Unlimited downloads – no caps no hidden charges "


Good timing for me as you had just done the double upgrade in the area and things were starting to suffer!
Posted by stanman24 over 4 years ago

Mr Saffron where is worldofadsl when you need him lmao
Posted by camieabz over 4 years ago

I'd be making hundreds of pies, and you and the other fat sods would be rationed half-pies so that others did not starve. :p

Who ate all the pies?
Posted by Dixinormous over 4 years ago
@pcoventry76 If you have said letter you could certainly send it to the ASA - these letters stopped last year to comply with ASA regulations.
Posted by Dixinormous over 4 years ago
All, VM's throttling isn't related to oversubscription per se but because the DOCSIS network suffers from skinny pipe syndrome. DSL networks are dedicated links to exchange or cabinet then can be put onto Gb or higher links for transport easily.

Cable can't - max 400Mb down, 38Mb up shared between customers on a fibre segment...
Posted by Dixinormous over 4 years ago
... which doesn't work so well.

Cable suffers with statistical contention, it's more efficient to have large numbers of customers in larger pipes than smaller ones in smaller pipes as the odds enough are using enough bandwidth to cause problems are lower.
Posted by Joppy over 4 years ago
Virgin cable used to be superior due to its fibre network being much better than copper but now that openreach fibre is out there, Virgin cable is looking like the new copper.

The crunch point is coming for Virgin and their limited DOCSIS technology. Bonding channels as a workaround can only go so far as a band-aid.
Posted by Dixinormous over 4 years ago
Bonding channels isn't a workaround it's the simplest way to deliver additional bandwidth.

VM's issue isn't with DOCSIS but with node sizes and the amount of properties being converted into flats. Big houses with converted lofts turn one home passed into 6+ flats.
Posted by pcoventry76 over 4 years ago
@Dixinormous I have done along with a few other things going on. The letter has also been sent to Andrew too
Posted by JonasT over 4 years ago
As a VM customer who is still waiting for a "free" upgrade i suffer a great deal from slow speed high pings bad jitter and terrible packet loss at peak times. My area is very much over subscribed, there the local exchange has problems that virgin know about but are not expected to be fixed until june of this year from september of last, my "free" upgrade is due for july-december of this year (all dates subject to change) I get the very short end of the stick, new restrictions same price less service, no real alternative provider in the area
Posted by otester over 4 years ago
Be nice if TB offered a no throttling option, I boycotted because it lacked one.
Posted by michaels_perry over 4 years ago
Figures for speeds might be misleading. Why not show xDSL and Cable/fibre as separate data sets so we can see the differences in traffic management ploys. Plus it would sho the differences in up/down speeds as well. It's always misleading to 'lump' different systems together.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 4 years ago
michael, the ADSL customers that Virgin Media has have been excluded from the data set.

I will be looking at product speeds for other providers in the future too. A short taster was done on our blog a few weeks back:
Posted by brush-head over 4 years ago
mmm what powers does the ASA have? very few & if they think a *member* is being untruthful in their advertising, they can ask them to do something about it-but can do little to enforce it. What about the *regulator* if performance is that bad? Personally of all the big operators I don't find Virgin too bad. I think a far more dangerous thing is that smaller ISP's are being swallowed up (recent Sky acquisition of O2/BE not really beneficial to the consumer I'd say). Watch the BE performance slide...
Posted by bigluap over 4 years ago
how to hit your cap the legal way, watch an online movie from any of the providers.
Posted by OldChapXS over 4 years ago
"Mark Heraghty, managing director of Virgin Media Business, talking about BIG RED, explained that ..."The peak service time on our network is usually around 10pm, and in the daytime it's essentially empty. So we want to leverage that unused capacity to enable businesses to do more with their connections"

"Furthermore, it actually costs us money to throttle the bandwidth we provide to businesses, and giving them more than they need costs us nothing."

Maybe I am misunderstanding things?

This seems at odds with what is happening.
Posted by Daveoh over 4 years ago
20Mbit is legacy on Virgin Media, but I don't think they are removing it any time soon. I was only just upgraded within the last 6 months from 10Mbit to 20Mbit, so I think 10Mbit is the only one truly disappearing. Unless there were people on a lower speed?
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