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.