Saturday, July 5, 2008

Rate Capped

This is a screenshot from KDE System Guard showing my download speed for the Fedora Core 9 distribution DVD, around mid-day on Saturday. After downloading 1.8GB I was suddenly slapped down to 100 kBytes/sec, which translates to around 1 Mbit/sec with all the packet overhead. This happens consistently with various download sites, so I'm confident its my ISP.

I'm paying Virgin Media for their "Unlimited" 10Mbit service (although I haven't seen anything over 500 kBytes/sec, which would mean around 5Mbit in reality). I was never told that my download rate would be capped, although the fine print in the sign-up page points to their AUP, which says in Section 7 that they reserve the right to restrict Internet services in any way at any time.

However this post is not actually a complaint about rate capping. ISPs are there to make money by providing a service, and as a rule you get what you pay for. In theory if I want a better service all I have to do is switch ISPs, and possibly pay more money. Our email address is routed through a domain I personally own, so we don't even have to tell anyone else that our household has switched ISPs.

But how do I know that I'll get a better deal if I go elsewhere? All retail ISPs offer basically the same terms, which consist of a big headline rate accompanied by a fine-print disclaimer pointing out that you might never get it. If they have a rate-capping policy they certainly don't advertise it.

I don't actually want a faster headline speed (although I'd be very happy to get the one I'm currently promised). I don't even want a promise of "no rate caps": the ISP argument that heavy downloaders hurt responsiveness for all users is valid. All I want is to be able to look at ISP adverts and figure out where the best value for money is. That means the following information:
  • Ratio of customers to actual incoming bandwidth.
  • The rate-capping policy: e.g. capped rate and criteria for applying it.
Anybody know a UK ISP that actually provides this?


Barry Kelly said...

I've been using the Be Pro package ( and have been very happy with it. At my last address, I was getting 18Mbits reliably, and I never saw any capping - and I did some pretty hefty downloads, well over 100GB/month.

I've now moved, and am in the middle of a triangle of exchanges (i.e. the worst possible situation, with a 1.7km line length of fairly poor quality), and I'm only getting 6Mbits on the same service. However, I think I'm still going to stick with Be Pro, as I'm not going to be worried about caps and I get a static IP, which is useful for e.g. ssh or remote desktop when I'm in work (I commute to California quarterly).

Be is now owned by O2, but AFAICT their infrastructure is still different.

Anonymous said...

I use Andrews & Arnold (, and I'm very happy with their policy on rate capping and charging.

In brief - you pay up-front for set limits (I pay for 2GB 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 100GB outside those hours). You pay more if you exceed them. In return, they promise to upgrade capacity as needed to ensure that I never see congestion on my link.