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Are British Telecom Traffic Shaping?

Last year, BT said they were not traffic shaping, however from my experience I think they might be. In fact, after doing the research for this post, in my opinion they are.

What does this mean for me? Well, if I start downloading a torrent file, my download speed on uTorrent is appallingly low, usually around 20k if not lower. This doesn’t happen all the time, and usually occurs from 8am until sometime in the early hours – however there is a distinct drop in service.

I thought when this first started to occur that it was because it was a peak hour and there were a lot of users on the internet – which is how I understood BT’s systems worked. They advertise their internet speed as 8MEG, however this is dependant on the number of users on the internet at the time, and the distance from the exchange.

I actually recorded my speed at around 600k going even higher at one point, however only at certain times – even though we should have 8MEG internet speed, its a lot lower, which I generally accept is due to the distance from the exchange.

So up until a couple of weeks ago I was reasonably happy with everything as I could explain the speed difference – however appalling.

However, recently I started using a VPN, and on one occasion uTorrent was running in the background and my download speed increased to around 2MEG. What was more amusing was that I could switch the VPN on and off. and my download speed would drop and increase.

I went and reviewed my VPN details, and the speed of my VPN was limited to 200k – which I would take as a very good reason for my download speed not being higher than 200k while using the VPN.

So back to the point, Traffic Shaping is where a broadband supplier prioritises certain types of data over others to avoid network congestion. The practice is at the heart of the debate over so-called “Network Neutrality“, as some see it as a way to protect time-sensitive applications such as VoIP, while others see it as a way for operators to promote their own services over those of rivals.

So, as stated above, British Telecom says they do not do Traffic Shaping… However, BT’s own “Usage Allowance Guidelines and Fair Usage Policy” seem to suggest different.

Peer to Peer (P2P)
11. What is BT’s policy on P2P?
P2P is the sharing of files and programs between groups of people who are logged on to a P2P network. It consumes a significant and highly disproportionate amount of bandwidth even when it’s being used by just a small number of customers.
Because of this, we restrict P2P speeds if it’s having a negative impact on the online experience of the majority of our customers. We normally place restrictions in the evenings at peak time, but we do apply them during the day if a lot of customers are using P2P at the same time.
Without these limits all our customers using their broadband service would suffer, regardless of whether they are using P2P or not. It’s important to remember that P2P can be used at any time, and even when restrictions are applied it is not restricted completely, so is always available to use.
12. Does this mean I can’t use Peer-to-Peer (P2P) applications?
No, we are not stopping you from using any P2P service. P2P will just be slowed down in the evenings and during the day if a lot of customers are using it.


Its stated in BT’s “Usage Allowance Guidelines and Fair Usage Policy” that they will in effect cut the speed of their users using P2P. Can someone please explain, how this can possibly mean unlimited internet? And how this policy does not indicate Traffic Shaping?

Why is this such an issue? Well what happens if British Telecom decide in their god like wisdom that they are going to pull the plug on Google or Youtube, as too many people are visiting this site, and it is causing too much traffic on BT’s network? Or what about if BT decides that they no longer want users to use any other providers VOIP, such as Skype – preferring their own instead?

Over the pond in the United States, Comcast – which is one of the large internet providers – caused an absolute uproar when it was uncovered they were shaping peoples net traffic to fit their needs. Don’t believe me? See here for some of the coverage via Google News. The effect of this was so large that the Law in the States has been changed ensure that the internet is always open and free – Network Neutrality Laws as mentioned above.

I personally believe that British Telecom should not be allowed to do this, as do a lot of others. The fact that I am able to obtain higher speeds, only limited by the speed of my VPN means to me that there is the network capacity there.

UPDATE: I’ve put an email into British Telecom to ask them if they do, or don’t Throttle Bandwidth, lets see what they say… provided they respond!

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  1. Robb

    The two statements from BT do not agree with one another. Restricting P2P speeds and throttling P2P speeds mean the same thing, don’t they?

  2. Mary Blighthouse

    Restricting P2P and throttling is in effect the same thing. Throttling is where they lower the speeds avalible on certain types of network traffic, and if I was a Network Operator, and wanting to restrict P2P then lowering the speeds of that form of Network Traffic would be the easiest option.

  3. Charlie Styr

    Hmm, I’m sure BT are doing this. We’re on BT, and torrents rarely go over 20kB/s during the day and evening. I think during the early morning however, (i.e. from around 1AM til probably around 6AM), it’s perfectly fast, using as much of our supposedly 8MB connection as it can.

    Pretty frustrating, and looking to another ISP, probably a smaller company than BT in the future, when our contract runs out!

  4. houseman

    yes the do they use a system called ellacoya it comes on around 3pm and goes off around midnight and its not just p2p it affects also gaming and voip i have been fobbed off by bt for the last six months with no stright answer they know that they are in the wrong but getting an admission is anther thing

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