Uncovering UK Broadband ISP Fair Usage Policies and Traffic Shaping - ISPreview
Uncovering ISP Fair Usage Policies and Traffic Shaping
By: Mark Jackson and Zen Internet - April 7th, 2010 : Page 3 -of- 3
"If the ISP has built in excess capacity a customer's service will not suffer when the network is at its busiest"

Some providers can also abuse it as a means to fit more customers onto a dwindling supply of capacity, which saves money but can also lead to a detriment in service quality for everybody. This kind of irresponsible behaviour is little more than a patch to mask the need for further investment in capacity and the provider’s failure to advertise and design its packages with greater honesty in mind.

Investment in the network

Capacity is basically all about investment in the ISP's network infrastructure. If the ISP has built in excess capacity a customer's service will not suffer when the network is at its busiest. Excess capacity in an ISP's network, however, means that at less busy times it has unused capacity and is therefore under utilising the network and ultimately this could be viewed as lost revenue.

Being transparent and placing caps on products helps to measure demand and build a network that can cater for all customer requirements. This allows the provider to build in excess capacity so that they can provide reliable speeds and quality of service. It may be a tougher sell than “unlimited” (FUP) but the difference in service quality and sustainability often speaks for itself. This of course assumes that the ISP has its economic model right and does not also apply an FUP to the fixed usage allowance.


Recent Ofcom research showed that most ISPs are traffic shaping at peak times but further research needs to be done to fully assess the extent of this practice throughout the day. Although we (Zen) would not introduce traffic shaping we feel customers need to be aware that with some ISPs they are not getting the service they were promised.

However FUP’s are not always bad and reputable providers, which these days appear to be increasingly few and far between, will only ever use service restrictions against those who consume an excessively disproportionate amount of bandwidth. In these situations a customer who might pay £15-20 per month could effectively be using bandwidth that is equivalent to £100+ per month, which is understandably difficult for an ISP to sustain.

One good piece of advice for heavy users, when considering any provider with an FUP, is to check the policy first and see how much detail it contains. If the provider has a shaky reputation and its policy is extremely vague, containing no references to specific service restrictions or usage allowances, then it’s probably time to look at alternatives.

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