A consistently popular article on Tech Digest over the past year has been about Virgin Media’s broadband throttling scheme, whereby they slap a speed limit on the customers they deem to be “heavy users” if they download or upload too much during peak hours.
It’s certainly got you hot under the collar, as most of the 80+ comments — plus the search terms you’re using to find the article in the first place — testify.
Here, as a public service, is Tech Digest’s Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ] guide to Virgin Media’s broadband speed throttling.
Why has Virgin Media introduced speed restrictions for some broadband users?
Here’s the official reasoning behind the speed throttle:
When someone is downloading and/or uploading a particularly large amount of information over a long period of time, it can slow down the Internet speed for other users who might just be checking their email or browsing online. So to make sure our service is fair for everybody, we sometimes moderate the speeds during peak times (4pm till 9pm) for customers who are downloading and/or uploading an unusually large amount at these times.
This ensures that the service doesn’t get blocked up with people using more than their fair share – which means a lot fewer traffic jams.
How many customers are being affected by the throttle?
According to Virgin Media, the top 3% of downloaders (taking stuff off the Internet) and the top 3% uploaders (putting stuff on to the Internet) are the main culprits for degraded performance during peak hours. Combined, that’s around 5% of Virgin Media’s broadband customers.
These are generally the people who will notice a restriction in connection speed during peak hours.
However, the speed throttle will apply to anyone who hits a particular download or upload limit during peak hours, so it could affect a lot more customers over time.
How much can be downloaded before my speed gets cut?
It depends which “size” of broadband you’re on, and is only measured during peak hours (4pm – 9pm).
Users on Size M can download 300MB or upload 150MB before being restricted.
Users on Size: L can download 800MB or upload 325MB before being restricted.
When Size: L speeds are upgraded from 4Mb to 10Mb, the upload limit will be increased to 400MB, though the download limit will stay the same.
Users on Size: XL can download 3GB or upload 1.25GB before being restricted.
What will my broadband speed be throttled to, and for how long?
Users hitting the limit during peak hours will be throttled for five hours from the time their up/download limit is reached, according to which “size” of broadband they’re on:
Users on Size L and Size M will have their download speed cut to 1Mb, and their upload speed cut to 128Kb.
Users on Size XL will have their download speed cut to 5Mb, and their upload speed cut to 192Kb.
So I’ll be speed-throttled for FIVE HOURS?
Here’s the official line:
Any users hitting this amount during peak times (4pm till 9pm) will have their broadband speed temporarily traffic managed. This will last for 5 hours from when the traffic management policy is applied.
This seems to suggest that, if you hit your limit at 8.59pm, your broadband speed will be cut until 1.59am the following day. Seems a bit unfair? Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.
How can I find out when my speed cap / throttle will end?
Each day, you could be throttled for five hours at any time between 4pm on one day and 2am on the following day, but only if you hit your download or upload limit between 4pm and 9pm.
It operates on a daily basis, so you won’t be capped / throttled the following day unless you hit your limits again during peak hours that day.
How can I stop Virgin Media speed capping?
1. Take over the position of CEO, and change the rules.
2. Leave Virgin Media.
3. Don’t download / upload so much between 4pm and 9pm.
There’s really not much else option. Good luck with 1.
I’m not a downloader but get traffic managed by Virgin Media
Possibly, you’re uploading a lot of stuff (like putting videos on YouTube, for example)?
If not, then it could be that you’re just suffering from poor broadband speeds. See “My broadband speed is slower than it should be all the time” below.
What tests have Virgin Media done to prove all this?
Virgin Media claims to have carried out trials, looking closely at when the heaviest broadband users were affecting general users.
They also concluded that, after introducing the speed throttles, everyone’s average speed increased, and there were less calls to technical support regarding broadband performance problems [except, perhaps, from those having their speeds throttled? Andy]
Will Virgin Media’s throttling thresholds change?
The company says that they’ll continue to monitor the way that their customers use the broadband service, and may increase or decrease the limits in future.
How do I know if my broadband speed is throttled?
Virgin Media recommend a tool called DU Meter, though that’s a Windows-only piece of software and it looks as if you have to pay for it after a while.
My broadband speed is slower than it should be all the time
This could be due to all sorts of factors, rather than speed capping.
Bear in mind that Virgin Media offers an “up to” service, with speeds that can fluctuate depending on a number of factors such as how far you are away from your local telephone exchange, the quality of the phone line, and how many other people are using the Net.
If you’re getting slow speeds outside peak hours, it may be worth talking to Virgin Media to see if anything can be done. Unfortunately, you may also be in an area where broadband speeds just aren’t that fast.
How can Virgin Media say that their broadband service is “unlimited”?
It depends how you look at their broadband offering.
Introducing speed throttling limits a part of the service for some users. However, the “unlimited’ claim relates to how much data can be uploaded or downloaded, rather than how quickly.
Imagine if you were still on a dial-up connection, but on a flat rate and with no download limits. Access would be hellishly slow, but it would still be “unlimited”.
If you’re feeling really pedantic you could argue that, over the course of a month, if your download speed is throttled, then you won’t be able to download as much. True, but the Internet rarely runs at “top speed” anyway, and if you’re spending that much time online, you really do need to get out more.
Are Virgin Media telling lies about their download speeds?
I need to be very careful here. A lot of broadband suppliers have been criticised for claiming top speeds for broadband access, without making it clearer that very few customers will ever achieve those speeds.
Virgin Media haven’t lied, in as much as they are offering broadband packages with speeds “up to” 2Mb, 4Mb, 10Mb, or 20Mb. Just don’t be surprised if you rarely if ever achieve those speeds on your line. That’s not exclusive to Virgin Media, either.
What idiot called this “speed capping”?
Again, we could get pedantic. I — perhaps erroneously — called Virgin Media’s practice “speed capping”, because a cap is placed on the broadband speed.
Virgin Media seems to call it “speed moderation”. Most other people call it “speed throttling” which is far more emotive.
End result’s the same, though.
Got any real examples of users suffering at the hands of Virgin Media?
Well, take a look at the some of the comments on the last post (and probably many of the comments that will appear on this one.
Our very own Gary “Battery” Cutlack (no, that’s not his real middle name — at least, I don’t think so) is also facing the threat of the throttle:
“It means I have to tread carefully in the evening. Download too much and you’re dumped down to 1MB, for hours so, oddly, you end up downloading all your “warez” during the day.” (OK, now we know) “The limit seems to kick in as soon as you hit the 800MB download mark, so it’s clearly just stuck on an artificial limit that hits everyone.”
I think that covers most of the questions and concerns raised about Virgin Media’s broadband speed throttling.
For those of you who arrived here looking for information about other types of virgin — sorry to disappoint.