UK broadband sucks…

I find it incredible that the UK lags behind much of the world in it’s broadband. This article on techdirt shows that it is possible to drive innovation through competition.  We’ve had local loop unbundling for a while now in the UK and we have seen faster broadband offerings as well as a boost in the number of companies offering broadband services.

What amazes me most though is the attitude these companies are adopting.  We are seeing more services that allow us to view videos or listen to music online, greater access to interractive online services and a general boost to the number of people taking advantage of this new found freedom.  The BBC recently started up a beta of their new TV on demand offering where viewers can watch BBC programs for up to 7 days after first airing.

This is of course all good news, except that many broadband providers seem to think that using your broadband connection is not good.  Lets look at Virgin Media for example.  I have a 4meg broadband account with Virgin Media and you’d imagine that although this is not the fastest available connection speed it is a pretty fast line.  And you would be right.  I’m also rather lucky as I do generally receive the full 4meg most of the time (albeit when I don’t use it).

I say most of the time because Virgin Media have an interesting policy.  They have opted to initiate a capping policy, this means that I am alowed to use the full bandwidth that I pay for only until I reach the cap.  This cap is set at 750MB.  So I can download 750MB of data @ 4Mb/s then my connection is halved to 2Mb/s downstream and 192Kb/s upstream.  The throttling apparently only lasts 2 hours and is supposed to only happen when you reach the cap during certain times but I have seen my connection throttled even at so called ‘off peak’ times.

Now, most broadband providers state that they have to introduce limits to their services as the technology simply isn’t available for them to do anything else.  Unfortunately Virgin Media are running on a shiny new Fiber Optic network that hasn’t been in place very long so you’d imagine this argument wouldn’t count.  Virgin Media have also introduced a new 20Mb/s service (though I don’t know of anyone who has ever seen a 20Mb/s connection reach more than 12Mb/s) so the network must surely be able to handle it.

The problem in the UK and certainly with Virgin Media is that companies don’t/won’t invest fast enough, preferring instead to rip of the customers.  Virgin Media halve my connection on a regular basis as I download patches for Windows or packages for Linux, ISO’s for Linux and other open source software.  I also get my emails, watch movie trailers, youtube video’s and play online games. 750MB is maxed out really quickly and considering I work for a living, I can only use my connection during peak times so I’m screwed! 

Virgin never offer me a refund though despite my connection remaining inert most of the day, every day… go figure.  Other people are worse off than me in the UK as there’s this great marketing technique where providers advertise services as ‘up to’ 4MB or ‘up to’ 8MB which means you can pay for 8 and get 1 and you can’t do a damn thing about it.

Maybe we should move to Japan, it looks like they have the right idea.

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