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British ISPs Favour Well-Connected Customers 88

Posted by timothy
from the thumb-on-the-scale dept.
scurtis writes "An insider has told eWEEK Europe that some Internet service providers in the UK only sign-up customers who can be guaranteed a good service, in order to improve average speed claims. The revelation comes after the regulator Ofcom criticised broadband service providers earlier this week for not delivering the speeds promised to consumers. Meanwhile, TalkTalk's chairman Charles Dunstone has argued that Ofcom could be doing a lot more to push BT — as the operator of the copper infrastructure — to improve maintenance of the lines and its communication with fellow service providers."
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British ISPs Favour Well-Connected Customers

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  • by HopefulIntern (1759406) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:22AM (#33081218)
    ...to their sub-1mbps service. So kudos to them, I guess..
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Yea, the summary seems to complain about ISPs not being able to deliver promised speeds while at the same time complaining that ISPs try to avoid selling their services to people in areas where they can't meet their promised speeds. I realize that yes, in an ideal world everyone would have 10GB fiber run to their door, but that's simply not the case.

      • This also reminds me of a documentary about "unintended consequences of laws". During the 90s the British Parliament mandated no more than 30 minutes wait time for hospitals, but the doctors could not meet that quota so instead they had sick people waiting in the parking lots. That didn't count as "wait time" so the hospitals met the legal requirements even when people were waiting for hours.

        This Internet regulation sounds like it's causing the same problem. The letter of the law is complied with, but

        • by Sri.Theo (983977)

          This isn't true. Nobody waited outside in carpark's (the Daily Mail lies). They simply created a waiting list to get on the waiting list.

          The plan got scrapped soon after, although funnily enough the waiting time goals have now been achieved...

    • by valeo.de (1853046)

      Virgin aren't picky... ;)

      Which is a little strange considering the amount of complaints they've been getting recently.

      • by Canazza (1428553)

        I can't fault Virgin's service
        I can fault Virgin's Customer Service though.
        It's all scripted and unwavering, the CSMs know nothing about the subjects and are powerless to do anything than tell you to wait and see if it fixes itself.

        However, they're a damn site better than Opal.

        • Your not wrong there! I had an on going issue for around 2 months where my ping times were about 500ms to uk destinations. After troubleshooting here, I could see that the 3rd hop in their network was causing the issue. I phoned them and got the normal scripted response. After about an hour i gave up and tried another day. Same issue. EVENTUALLY! i got through to someone who seemed to know what he was talking about. We found that the router was indeed shafted and that he would tell the network guys. I
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        My relationship with Virgin is love/hate.

        House 1: I was on their fibre network, had the 20mb package, everything went as it should, always had between 16-20 down speed. Line attenuation was acceptable, usually under 70ms ping. Customer support, when needed, was wank. Truly awful.

        House 2: Again, on their fibre network, but in a "high-density area" (they just let wayyy too many people on for the network to handle). Still got the full 20mb, but line attenuation was awful. Unless I wanted to stay up til 2
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Is this "Virgin" the same company that provides cellphone service, aka Virgin Mobile?

          I love that they let you buy just the service you need - in my case that's $5 a month worth of calls. They also sell data bundles for cheap (1 GB for $5). All the other companies require you get $30 minimum even if you rarely use your phone.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by jimicus (737525)

            Not quite as simple as that. Branson licenses the Virgin name and companies operating under the name tend to run fairly independently of one another.

            In the UK, there used to be two cable companies which merged, bought Virgin Mobile and with it the rights to use the Virgin brand across their entire business. AFAIK, the relationship between other Virgin companies (including other companies in similar industries but in different parts of the world) may be minimal.

            • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

              Well when I type in virginmobile.com it asks me to identify which country, so there must be some connection there?
            • by mpe (36238)
              In the UK, there used to be two cable companies which merged, bought Virgin Mobile and with it the rights to use the Virgin brand across their entire business.

              Actually there used to be a fairly large number of independent cable companies, who also provided telephone lines in more or less in direct competition with BT. These started to merge eventually leaving only NTL and Telewest. A side effect of these mergers was that companies who had been quite activly expanding their networks (or at least putting in
        • by jimicus (737525)

          Virgin have recently started expanding their network, and the areas they're particularly interested in expanding are streets like yours where the cable almost but not quite covers every house on the road.

          You should contact them and ask if they'd be prepared to reconsider.

        • My house is at the end of the road from the exchange, about 400 yards.
          My phone line is at the end of a loop taking in my surrounding streets, and I have 6.5km of copper between me and the exchange.
          I couldn't get any service at all before the introduction of Rate Adaptive DSL, and then only poor service at best.
          At the time, "HomeChoice" offered the best DSL deals, but wouldn't sign me up because the package also included TV over IP, and they couldn't guarantee enough bandwidth for the TV. They would not sign

          • by neokushan (932374)

            Just to clarify, the 50Meg service from Virgin doesn't have traffic management (I.e. if you download too much, your speeds wont get slowed down), unlike their 10 or 20meg service, however ALL of their connections have a "fair use" policy, which is for the ones that download non-stop, through traffic management, all night long, all week long. I have the 50meg service, I've regularly downloaded 60, 70, 80Gb per day for weeks at a time and I have never ever been contacted over "fair use" and more often than no

  • by GauteL (29207)

    Do we REALLY want them to sell broadband to anyone even if they know the service will be shit? As far as I can see, this isn't the crux of the matter and I think Slashdot could be doing a lot more to improve the quality of their editing.

    • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Informative)

      by Ephemeriis (315124) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:31AM (#33081284)

      Do we REALLY want them to sell broadband to anyone even if they know the service will be shit? As far as I can see, this isn't the crux of the matter and I think Slashdot could be doing a lot more to improve the quality of their editing.

      I dunno...

      If they know I'm not going to get anything better than 1 Mbps, I sure as hell don't want to be paying for a 5 Mbps connection.

      But, at the same time, I don't want them telling me no, sorry, your lines aren't good enough for our service and I wind up stuck with dial-up.

      I guess what I'd like to see is universal availability, with an attempt to match the pricing to the performance you're actually going to get. Which sounds like I'm asking for an awful lot, but I'm not. If they'd drop the pretense of an "unlimited" package and just be honest with folks - you get 2 GB a month, over that you're paying $X/byte - then the pricing would kind of work itself out. Folks with crappy lines that can't download too fast would be unlikely to exceed that monthly allotment. Folks with blazing fast connections that like to download everything they can find would pay more, since they're downloading more. Nobody would really have to do extensive line testing or modify fees or anything.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Except there's no reason to charge more for more downloaded, because it doesn't cost more to provide it. What costs more money is additional bandwidth, which is entirely different from $X/byte. It's more like $X/byte per second.

        That's why caps are horseshit.

        • There's always the possibility that X users use their 2mb/s connection to the fullest, making either the base station for the town or the cable lines become saturated and slow down speeds for everyone else, causing an unusually high volume of customer service calls and cancellations (if it's a regular occurrence). That would cost them money, but that's a fairly unlikely scenario.
          • It's also an example of overselling. If all your customers can't utilize what they're paying for simultaneously, you've oversold your capacity. It's the ISPs fault, not the customers.

            • Have you ever seen the prices for dedicated connections? Compare the cost of a T3 line with your common 50Mbps residential fiber.

              No ISP in the planet designs their network so that all their customers can use the full bandwidth allocated to them at the same time: They'd have to charge a lot more than everybody else, so nobody would use them; and most of their infrastructure would remain unused all the time, since most users don't keep using their full bandwidth all the time; they usually do so for short burs

              • The fact that it would cost more does not relate to the fact that it's advertised the way it is.

                I'm well-aware of the business model in use, but it doesn't change any of the facts.

                I'd frankly rather accept that I'm not going to have 100% of my advertised bandwidth 100% of the time than have arbitrary caps imposed, which is exactly what download caps are: arbitrary. What they're trying to accomplish is prevent the small percentage of heavy users from being able to use the service heavily for as much of the t

              • by cynyr (703126)

                so they should provide a real way for to to say "yes this is torrent traffic, go ahead and throttle it down enough to get the rest of your traffic in, but no more than you need to" or "this is an ftp download of the 6 debian dual layer dvds, it's going to take a while anyways, so go ahead and slow it down a small amount if you need to". Of course that requires your ISP to be trustworthy... good luck finding one like that.

        • Besides the fact that I realize holes in my following thought, I'm going to throw it out there.

          Why don't they just charge on the actual bandwidth we get? Something along the lines of $1 per minute at 1mbps or something like that. The numbers would probably be different on some order, but I think my point is made with that.

          • by drsmithy (35869)

            Why don't they just charge on the actual bandwidth we get? Something along the lines of $1 per minute at 1mbps or something like that.

            Primarily because it's simply not economical for the ISPs - it basically rules out any sort of oversubscription model.

            The other big reason is because it's basically impossible to sell around such a metric, which is both largely incomprehensible, and mostly irrelevant, to the average user.

            Most people care more about how much they can download (eg: 1000 mp3s every day), as

        • by kbielefe (606566)

          Actually, it does cost more, because they plan the trunk bandwidth based on everyone not using their full bandwidth at the same time. If you use your full bandwidth a higher percentage of the time than average, especially during peak usage periods, it costs them more either by not being able to sign up as many subscribers, or by needing to invest in more infrastructure. While bytes downloaded per month isn't a direct measure of "the percentage of time you use your full bandwidth," the math works out prett

          • by Retric (704075)
            Useage outside of peek times is meaningless. So someone who downloads 2MB/s at peek times cost more than someone that downloads at 1MB/s 24/7.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by KlaymenDK (713149)

        I live at the end of 5km of old copper, where the fastest ADSL speed seems to be about 600k. The smallest package I can get, however, is for 1mbit. It's not all that thrilling for a geek. :(

        Would I rather have no connection? Err, no. Slow is fine, relatively speaking.

        • by Chrisq (894406)

          I live at the end of 5km of old copper, where the fastest ADSL speed seems to be about 600k. The smallest package I can get, however, is for 1mbit. It's not all that thrilling for a geek. :(

          Would I rather have no connection? Err, no. Slow is fine, relatively speaking.

          Same here. I won't complain though because up until about 8 years ago they used to say that the line was too bad for any broadband - and 500-600k is a lot better than dial-up, which ties up your phone line, costs more, etc.

      • But, at the same time, I don't want them telling me no, sorry, your lines aren't good enough for our service and I wind up stuck with dial-up.

        Bell kinda does the same thing in Canada. When a friend of mine changed apartments the phone line did not support the connection speed he had with Bell so he switched to cable. Bell's retention department called him up during the change and had the balls to ask him to keep his old plan with them when they couldn't provide the service.

      • ... and a pony.

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      But what is "service will be shit" vs cooking the books to ensure they will be bumped up in national rankings?
      This seems to be beyond a downstream attenuation at a set limit for everyone to a selective sorting of "those quite near exchanges".
      The stats look great but how many will miss out on any broadband for no physical reason, just marketing?
      • by hedwards (940851)
        Indeed, around here we're fortunate enough to be able to get 5mbps, and Speakeasy is apparently able to do 10mbps for an arm and a leg. But latency and connection quality suck big time. Qwest the owner of the last mile doesn't seem to do any maintenance on it and consequently none of the options seem to be particularly stellar. Because of this they insist on adding 32ms to the first hop for error correction.

        Requiring them to offer the connection is just the first step, requiring them to then make the nec
    • by klingens (147173)

      Yes we do.
      Here's why: You have two choices: Broadband which is slow but has a flatrate, or PSTN which you pay per minute and is a lot slower to boot, resulting in higher costs for even less bytes transmitted.

      As long as the ISP is upfront about this when ordering, it's no problem. Admittedly this is a pretty big IF with your average ISP, but it's all that can be done.
      I have two relatives, one lives in a small city (~15k-20k residents), the other out in the boondocks. The small city gets only 3MBps instead of

    • Re:Eh? (Score:4, Informative)

      by cappp (1822388) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:52AM (#33081444)
      BBC ran a story [bbc.co.uk] on that a couple of days ago actually - the summary above links to a different article which doesn't lay out the facts quite as cleanly.

      Its analysis of broadband speeds in the UK shows that, for some services, 97% of consumers do not get the advertised speed."The gap between the average headline speed and actual speed has increased in this period even though the actual speed has risen," he said.
      In 2009, he said, when actual speeds for broadband were 4.1mbps, the average that those services were being advertised for stood at 7.1Mbps. In 2010, when people are generally getting 5.2Mbps out of their broadband, ISPs are claiming they will support speeds up to 11.5Mbps

      For example, the survey found that on DSL services advertised as being "up to" 20Mbps, only 2% of customers got speeds in the range of 14-20Mbps. Of the others, 32% were getting a 8-14Mbps service and 65%, 8Mbps or less.

      . Check out the BBC write-up - there's a great graph there which really drives the point home.

    • by Thanshin (1188877)

      I think Slashdot could be doing a lot more to improve the quality of their editing.

      Yes, in the same way as squirrels could be doing a lot more to improve the quality of their international architectural contracts.

  • Or just the physics of distance?
    http://www.internode.on.net/residential/broadband/adsl/extreme/performance/ [on.net]
    Has a nice adsl 2+ theoretical maximum speed chart. (1 meter =~ 3.28 ft)
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/7448704.stm [bbc.co.uk] shows some insight and
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/click_online/8028793.stm [bbc.co.uk]
    Or is this really backhaul too?
  • by crimperman (225941) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:26AM (#33081248) Homepage

    It's also the routing. I once had a case where two adjacent sockets (on different lines) got entirely different speeds. Turned out one went direct across the road to the exchange and the other took a left out the building, went round the block for about 4 miles and came back to the Exchange across the road.

  • by SkunkPussy (85271) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:31AM (#33081280) Journal

    I don't see why ISPs don't just measure the possible speed to your location, then put you in the highest price-band tarriff that your connection will allow.

    So as an example if you sign up for 20 Mbps at £10.99 but your connection only allows 14Mbps, you get the 12-16Mbps tarriff at 9.49 or whatever.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by HotBBQ (714130)
      Holy guacamole! You can get 20Mbps for $17 USD? Shit, I pay $50 USD for 15Mbps. The US of A really sucks when it comes to telecommunications.
    • Because it would cost more money to do the tests and make them less money in places where speed is bad.

      If X is the cost of doing above, and Y is the cost of class action lawsuits for breach of contract, they will not do anything until Y > X .

      Your proposal makes sense in the real world, but it doesn't make cents in the market.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Some of the phone line backbones are in a terrible mess in even concentrated zones where you'd expect there to be more focus and resources spent.

    I'm apparently supposed to be capable of running at 5Mbps at the moment, my average is usually around 2 with tests. (Ayrshire FYI)
    As for today though, i'm guessing i'm barely getting 512kbps for some strange random reason that usually pops up at least twice a month.
    Friends connection is perfectly fine though, and he is almost certainly on the same exchange. (both

    • by Pax681 (1002592)
      oh btw mr Ayrshire AC... change yer MTU to 1458.... i do... windows standard setting is 1500 .. ISP's also the same at 1500

      so if you change yours to something like 1458 then it CAN help you ;)
  • We do it to (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:36AM (#33081322)
    US telcos do it to. Although I don't think it's to increase average speed claims. Customers that are too far out to get 1meg service usually have so much noise on the line that they generate a lot of repair calls. If you're getting under 1mb DSL you're also probably going to get dropped service every time there's a storm as well.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by drinkypoo (153816)

      US telcos do it to. Although I don't think it's to increase average speed claims. Customers that are too far out to get 1meg service usually have so much noise on the line that they generate a lot of repair calls. If you're getting under 1mb DSL you're also probably going to get dropped service every time there's a storm as well.

      I don't know if it's still happening but telcos were being slammed hard for DSL failures so they reduced the range to which they will sell. Pacbell (well, now it's AT&T, but I think they made the change so long ago they were still pac bell) moved from selling to 14,000 feet to selling to 10,000 feet.

      • They should definitely not be selling beyond 10,000 feet. There's no equipment that I know of (short of fiber) that can do that without huge problems.
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          They should definitely not be selling beyond 10,000 feet. There's no equipment that I know of (short of fiber) that can do that without huge problems.

          They used to sell to something like 17,000 feet if you got a good signal test. I used to live in a house in Santa Cruz that was at about 17,500 (or so they said) and they sold to us anyway because we apparently had good copper, and we always managed to max out our advertised speeds, with little to no packet loss.

    • by Shakrai (717556) *

      Verizon hooked us up at 16,000 feet a few years ago. 1.5/384 service. It went down at least twice a day and often came back up at a lower speed than what we were paying for. We dumped them and switched to cable.

      They were decent enough about it to let us out of the contract without paying a termination fee. Not that I would have anyway -- but it was nice not to have to fight about it for once.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Friday July 30, 2010 @08:55AM (#33081460)
    The reference to ISPs cherry picking customers comes from a single unnamed "insider". No information is provided to substantiate the claim and no ISPs were named, to allow for follow-up investigations.

    So, ask yourself: in the dog-eat-dog world of extremely price sensitive internet provision, is it likely that some ISPs have so many potential customers queuing to sign up (with them) that they can afford to turn away those who may not get a good service?

  • VM were pretty flakey for me a couple of years ago so I had decided on making a move back to BT, after jumping through all the required hoops BT called me back to say that they wouldn't be able to take me on as they couldn't guarantee any kind of service. I'm far enough away from the exchange to get something just shy of 1mb. Thankfully VM have improved a ton but just a confirmation that this does go on, at least in my case.
    • by Cyblob (800812)
      I had exactly the opposite issue with BT back when broadband was relatively uncommon.

      They set up everything, sent us all the hardware etc. but we couldn't get it to work. It took almost a month before we managed to get them to admit that they couldn't provide us with any service and we had to go back to dialup...at least they didn't ask for the hardware back...

      Move to present day, I'm back at my parents for the weekend and they can get broadband, but they're stuck with ~786kbs compared to the 14mb I get for
  • Maybe I should switch to one of the two Chinese ones... at 20% world customers they seem to have no problems signing up whomever. And nobody is complaining...
    • They are Chinese providers though, so two words: No porn.

      What is even the point of having an interweb connection at that point.
  • Sounds like a cousin to Verizon's cherry-picking of customers to whom they roll out FiOS here in the U.S. Because they charge in excess of $100/month for the service, they won't run it to any neighborhoods where the median income is lower than a certain level. Because I choose to live economically in a townhouse, Verizon won't run fiber down my street and I'm stuck with 1Mbit DSL that goes down once a day.
  • Charles Dunstone still thinks its like the old stowdger days when the YIT (youths in training) had to do bank cleaning - how exeactly do you improve a 30/40 year old cable economicaly ?

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