The German research group Max Planck Institute reckons broadband speed ‘throttling’ is more prevalent in Britain than anywhere else in Europe. Is this another sign that Britain’s broadband is lagging behind?
When driving on the motorway it’s fairly common to see temporary speed limits in place, normally because of congestion, an accident or poor driving conditions. In any instance, these limits are there to ensure safety and prevent accidents.
What you might not appreciate is that internet service providers (ISPs) do a similar thing with broadband connections, and new research indicates that Britain suffers from ‘broadband throttling’ more than most other countries.
The worst in Europe?
Since 2008, Max Planck Institute has hosted a tool called Glasnost that aimed to detect broadband throttling on home broadband connections. It’s been used 1.5 million times since and, in an interview with the New York Times, the men behind the tool let slip that the UK suffers from throttling more than anyone other country in Europe.
Of the tests run from BT connections, 74% showed signs of throttling. Throttling also exceeded 50% on several other UK ISPs, including big names like Virgin Media and TalkTalk.
It’s important to point out that this doesn’t mean 74% of BT connections are being throttled – it’s an indicator that those who took the test, likely heavy users, were affected. However, most ISPs in France didn’t exceed 21% and Germany’s didn’t exceed 16% – a marked difference to what Brits are having to put up with.
Why is broadband being throttled?
Dig deep enough on the ISPs’ websites (you’ll need to dig very deep on some) and you’ll normally find out why Britain’s broadband is being throttled. Most, if not all, ISPs employ some kind of ‘throttling’.
Some call it a network or traffic management, and many users have dubbed it ‘shaping’. Whatever it’s called, the reason is simple – such policies exist to prevent heavy users from affecting the quality of service for other customers.
This is laudable and understandable, but the lack of transparency and consistency of these policies is concerning. Every company employs different policies, refers to them by different names and the details are often smothered in layers of technical jargon.
Consequently, it’s extremely difficult to compare ISPs, and there’s no way to independently verify if an ISP is even following the policy correctly or, indeed, enforcing it.
What do we think about throttling?
At Which? it’s our view that ISPs need to be upfront about their traffic management practices. It should be made clear at the point of purchase so that consumers can make informed choices, and be explained in such a way that we can all easily understand the implications.
Do you think you’ve been affected by broadband ‘throttling’ and have you read your ISP’s traffic management policy?