Virgin's Fair Usage Policy: A whiff of something rotten

by Mike Evans

I used to think that Virgin Media's cable broadband service was the bee's knees. Until, that is, I came across the company's brand new fair usage policy." There's something pretty rotten here, I think.

Two weeks ago I decided to upload 200GB of archive data (mainly photographs) to Amazon's Jungle Disk. It has been working diligently now for ten days and I am now up to 170GB at an average speed of 1.64 Mbps. So far so good.

Last week my internet connection slowed to under 100 Mbps and I wondered why. I didn't bother to call Virgin because I knew that, as usual, I would be paying heavily to go from pillar to post before having a fruitless discussion with someone who knows nothing and cares even less.

Instead, I explored the web site and came across something called the Virgin Media Traffic Management Policy. I'd never even considered this before, but I came to realise that I was being punished for having the temerity to actually use the service as it is intended.

I pay a princely sum for the fastest Virgin connection available in my area: 120 Mbps. Normally this is pretty adequate. I get upwards of 100 Mbps but I have never seen anything like the 12 Mbps claimed for upload speeds. I am lucky to get 5 Mbps.

Safari.jpg

No complaints there. But 800 kbps is indeed someting to complain about. As far as I can determine without getting a sworn affidavit from Richard Branson himself, I have been throttled into oblivion simply because I am making more use of the service than Virgin deems acceptable.

Further ferreting shows that I am not alone. See this disturbing report from another Virgin user who has been blacklisted for life without warning and without the ability to speak to an intelligent human being.

Above: Throttling back JungleDisk slows the upload but restores Virgin's faster speeds.  Below: My official "fair usage policy" based on the 120 Mbps XXL package. According to my speed tests the penalty for over-use was much more stringent than this table would lead us to believe

Above: Throttling back JungleDisk slows the upload but restores Virgin's faster speeds. 

Below: My official "fair usage policy" based on the 120 Mbps XXL package. According to my speed tests the penalty for over-use was much more stringent than this table would lead us to believe

Safari 2.jpg

Once I realised the problem I throttled back Jungle Disk to use no more than 200 kpbs during office hours. It runs amok at night when, I presume, this is acceptable. As a result, Virgin have kindly upped my service to around the 100 Mbps level.

I am left with a bad taste in my mouth. I have Virgin's premier bradband service with "unlimited" data. But it seems that Virgin have decided to impose arbitrary rules. Unlimited is no longer unlimited and more of us are going to find ourselves running foul of Virgin's Big Brother tactics.

Uploading significant amounts of data to offsite backup services is becoming more popular. All my photographs go straight to Dropbox and, with a typical file size of 24 Mb, this can result in considerable traffic. I am not downloading countless movies or file-sharing with dodgy sites, I am simply doing what is now normal for a typical internet user.

Instead of wild adventures in space, perhaps Mr. Branson should come back to earth and pay attention to his customers. We need a fair explanation and we need to know where we stand. And, please, while he is at it he should cease charging for service calls that take frustrated customers all around the houses only to meet Mr or Ms No-can-do.

Virgin's bee's knees are now suffering from arthritis and I would go to a better hole if I knew one.

by Mike Evans, 28 May 2013