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back to article ISPs should get 'up to' full fee for 'up to' broadband

Anyone promised broadband speeds of "up to" an amount should be free to pay a monthly fee of "up to" what's asked, according to the firebrand lobbying consultancy wispa Limited. It's not the first time wispa has riled against Ofcom, but this time its campaign has caught the imagination by asking people to tell the regulator they …

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I endorse this.

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Yea

I shall give you 'upto' 1000 thumbs up endorsements, but you get only one.

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Fail to understand the consequences

ISPs still have to make money and cover the flat fee of connection and bandwidth on the back hall.

What would happen is ISPs would charge £10 for 0.5MB connection and £70 for a 20MB connection (and scale it between the two). People would opt for the slowest to save costs thus reducing ISPs incentive to invest in faster networks.

A 100% better idea would be to sell it based on data transfer allowances and ping times. ISPs then have an incentive to make your connection as fast as possible so that you burn though your usage as quick as possible. You could have a colour label like we have on food.

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Re: Fail to understand the consequences

Then the flat fees that are in force further down the chain, should be subject to variabilities therefore no mofo is entitled to scupper a windfall at the expense of humanity. The providers of the infrastructure would then have to invest in said infrastructure in order to make a return sometime in the future, instead of making record profits in the short to medium term. Less profit, greter customer focus. This is known as capped-capitalism where humanity can co-exit along side capitalism only when capitalism is strictly regulated and controlled like the evil beast that it is!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Fail to understand the consequences

Do that realize that ping times measure latency, which is completely different than bandwidth, right?

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Up to all the time

Surely this should apply all the time. In other words, if the ISP wants it's full fee, you should get the full bandwidth they quote (up to) at all times? Even before the caps kick in, I rarely get the full rate specified by my ISP during the day. That's only available overnight normally. Perhaps they should keep stats on your link and if on average you get 2.5Mb/sec on a 20Mb/sec sevice, they should only get an an eighth of the fee?

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Re: Up to all the time

That doesn't really work though because most of the time you're not actually downloading anything. So the calculated average would be close to zero for most people.

Being charged for the volume of traffic you generate (both up and down) is the only real way forward. Just like with every other utility bill, you pay for what you use. (Hear me out...)

The rates for this should be based on the theoretical maximum for any given internet connection speed. So if your download speed is meant to be 16Mb per second, the basis for calculating should be around the fact that you would normally be able to download 5TB per month. So if you actually download 1TB in a month, you should be paying approximately one fifth of the current rate you pay for a 16Mb connection. Plus any line rental fees, etc.

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Re: Up to all the time

An interesting idea, but sometimes speed matters in short bursts. When I said your average speed, I didn't mean average of all the month, but average when using the internet and therefore the speed would give a similar answer to your calculation. There are two important issues with a link and they are speed and caps. I get really hacked off with my speed being below that possible (and stated) during the day simply due to the contention ratios of the links.

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Re: Up to all the time

Whilst your proposal has gone certain merits, there is a couple of flaws.

First you state that if the maximum you use at 16Mb is 5Tb so if you only transfer 1Tb you should only pay 20% of your "current price". This is not going to happen. Your current price is likely calculated on an average monthly usage on the order of 50-100Gb (maybe you use more, maybe your neighbours use less, average). So this model would therefore first require you to increase your current monthly fee 100 fold (in peering and back haul infrastructure costs) and then you could reduce in proportion to your usage.

Second, the main issue with charging based on actual speeds is that the cost to the ISP doesn't really change based on what speed you get - the cost to actually peer 1Mb of data is a tiny fraction of the costs of providing your connection. There are two primary expenses - back haul connectivity and the cost of your line (in installation and maintenance).

Backhaul has high lead times to change so it's aggregated and estimated - before you order your line I have no idea what speed you'll get so I'll order a connection to your exchange based on a couple of guesses - first I guess how many lines I might get and then what the average speed of those lines is and buy the appropriate amount of fibre bandwidth, then I average the cost among all my lines. Calculating it on a per user basis is impractical since it's likely my guess doesn't always match with reality - the number of lines I have and their speeds will vary far faster than any changes I can make to the amount of back haul I have.

So unless you want to see your bill vary on a month by month (made up numbers: our back haul bill is £3,000,000 this month, we've gained 217 new lines, lost 113, your line sync speed averaged 9.8Mb compared to 9.5Mb to last month, every other line we have also changed slightly and therefore your share of the back haul cost has gone from 0.00023132% to 0.00023284%) a certain amount of averaging has to take place.

The second cost is that of your line. Your line is a length of copper and copper has value therefore there is a greater opportunity cost to Openreach to provide a long line (that will have lower speeds) than it does to provide a short line.

In addition longer lines are more prone to faults - there's more line that might go wrong, they're more prone to interference since there's more of them to pick up other signals, the signal is weaker so noise issues that could be ignored on a short line can become crippling. All of this means that a long line actually costs an ISP/Openreach more to provide - you're more likely to require technical support, you're more likely to require engineering work, etc. At present this cost is averaged - the long line pays proportionally less for their line (compared to the cost to Openreach) and more for their speed, the short line pays more their line and less for their speed.

So whilst charging you less if your line can only achieve a slower speed makes sense, it also makes sense to charge you more if you have a long phone line - just like what happens with the specifically installed not "budget residential" connections such as leased lines or ethernet connections.

Fundamentally ADSL is a stopgap technology - it was designed to deliver better speeds than dialup, which it does, but more importantly it was designed to do this cheaply. And consequentially it's a cheap and nasty solution.

As long as the average consumer in this country is obsessed with getting the cheapest possible service (and they are - the number of businesses that spend less than I do to be able to read my e-mail when I'm roaming around for their "business critical, I will lose tens of thousands of pounds for every hour that it's down" internet connections is depressing) then we are going to continue to receive a flawed and limited technology.

Pushing ISPs to cut costs further is not going to deliver you a better service - it's just going to result in greater contention, overloaded networks, and slower response time on fixing faults. You'll get a a pathetic connection but oh, look, you only have to pay half as much each month so it must be so much better.

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Re: Up to all the time

Define 'using the internet' though. My PC is on 24/7 and is connected to the internet 24/7. While I might not be actually downloading software or surfing the internet every hour of every day, I do have Skype running all the time, as well as Trillian. Software which is also running all the time the machine is up is also periodically connecting to servers to perform whatever tasks it needs to perform. Most, if not all of those tasks, will barely register on any kind of performance metric, but they do consume tiny amounts of bandwidth. (Not that I ever have any speed issues. I live in a small village in Norway and my advertised 16mb/s connection gives me 16mb/s all day, every day. :)

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@Def

You still need a minimum fee to cover fixed costs, but otherwise, a workable solution.

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I live just outside a small town, and get a stable 1.5Mbps ADSL maximum due to my distance from the exchange. I currently pay for 'up to 12Mbps' because that's the cheapest package on the ISP I want to be with (bethere.co.uk) - fibre is not available here, and neither Virgin or BT have any plans to bring it here due to the lack of commercial viability.

The question is: Who is ultimately responsible for the quality/speed of the infrastucture? To me, this is an issue with my BT phone line, not my ISP.

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Boffin

Who is responsible for the infrastructure.

That's Openreach.

Ask your ISP if ADSL2+ is available. Zen bumped me up to it about 3 months ago and my 1.5 meg connection jumped to 2.5meg after a slightly bumpy "training" period.

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Anonymous Coward

With the ISP

Stop blaming BT/Ofcom for the ISPs which have the financial muscle to invest into infrastructure or lobby for access to infrastructure while refusing to do so and playing the BT/Ofcom-blame game.

O2/BeThere is a prime suspect here. They have the finances to be able to deploy alternative high speed broadband in selected geographies, but refuse to do so. They have the finances to lobby too.

As far as infrastructure is concerned:

1. Blame councils - for refusing to allow council owned street "furniture" like lighting for above ground fiber deployment. This leaves BT owned poles and BT/NTL owned ducting as the only game in town.

2. Blame utilities and the OfGem/OfCom "not our problem govnor attitude". EDF has run new ducts which can (and in places do) accommodate their own fiber in most geographies where they are responsible for the "physical infra" for the in-town distribution. EON is a bit behind here, but it is running a similar program too. Not sure about "Scroodge Energy" and other suppliers, but I would be surprised if they do not run a new duct programme too. Are they obliged to offer right of way through that duct? Of course no, that will require two mupettarins from OfCom and OfGem actually talking to each other and coming up with a coherent infrastructure policy which is good for the country. Once you bring the fiber to the substation at the end of your close (usually one per 300 households or less) even wireless last "mile" (in reality under 100m) will work.

Once the above two problems are fixed the need to blame BT/Ofcom will wane (together with BT's market dominance and Ofcom significance) because the market will become naturally competitive with less need for regulation.

However, once again - the blame presently should be firmly laid with the ISPs as _NONE_ of them has even tried lobbying for either one of these and keeps playing the "Blame Ofcom" and "Blame BT" game.,

In any case - the idea is pretty good, I would happily sign up for such a petition. Nothing impossible in the idea either - it is pretty much inline with the practices of the ISP I used to work for 15 years ago in a 5th world (post-wall fall wrong side of wall) country. The data is available and is being collected 24x7 because it is used to tweak DSL parameters so whoever runs the DSL infra actually already has all the data.

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That last question is one of the main things this petition is trying to address - whoever it is who is responsible for the upkeep of the physical connection (usually BT? - not sure) is unlikely to be impressed by you on your own complaining about only getting 1.5Mbps. They want to replace Ofcom with a body that will take the fight to the networks on behalf of the consumer.

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Siding scale payment is the way to go...

I also endorse this part payment for partial speeds.

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Terminator

Paints a very black and white picture

Zen advertised "up to" but made it very clear to me what their estimates were for the line. I never felt I was being mislead.

Unlike my neighbour who is with Talk Talk who seems to think she has 24 meg despite my explanations to the contary.

Where the real pressure should be is on Openreach to upgrade their creaky network. A lot of the problems people have with broadband are down to dodgy connections in junction boxes and aluminium cable being used instead of copper. The policy seems to be to make do and mend rather than actually improve.

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Wispa's superficial analogy

The problem with this is that most of the real costs of ADSL are fixed and independent of line speed. That's simply because that, apart from back-haul, the inescapable costs are largely those of the maintenance, return on capital, business rates and so on for things such as the local loop, power, DSLAM and accommodation. Indeed, as ADSL speeds are essentially inversely related to the length of the copper line, the real costs of supporting long lines (and inherent slower speeds) are higher than those for short lines, as the former requires more maintenance and capital (more copper, more telegraph poles, ducts and so on). Indeed rural lines are already cross-subsidised by those from suburban and city areas.

Of course the rational thing here is to have a separate fixed line charge and then variable rates based on the amount of data shifted and guaranteed back-haul bandwidth. That way those on longer lines will pay less for the capacity side and more for delivery. People might complain about this, but it's hardly unusual. If you live remote from a town you inevitably pay more for transport or local shopping due to higher costs. Indeed there are some infrastructure services, like main drainage, gas distribution or cable TV which are deemed not to be cost effective in some locations.

Comparison with Kg of sugar are just a nonsense. The costs of sugar are largely proportionate to weight whilst the costs of providing ADSL are far more complex.

It may be that it's social desirable to provide high speed comms to those remote from telecommunications infrastructure and for the rest to cross-subsidise it. However, outfits like wispa should not be misrepresenting this - as it stands, those who by luck, or choice, are on shorter copper loops effectively cross-subsidise long lines already.

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Re: Wispa's superficial analogy

"the real costs of supporting long lines (and inherent slower speeds) are higher than those for short lines, as the former requires more maintenance and capital (more copper, more telegraph poles, ducts and so on). "

Sorry I thought I was already paying line rental to BT for the copper. The price of my ADSL should have nothing to do with the length of the line.

Indeed if you ring up BT and complain about unreliable ADSL you'll have a devil of a job to get them to be interested. Last time it took my line to physically break before they'd agree to actually come out rather than pretend to test things at the exchange. If there's no voice fault then you can basically get on your bike.

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Re: Wispa's superficial analogy

The issue here is largely a town v countryside argument, although I appreciate there are a significant number of exceptions. Why should there be any cross-subsidy applying here anyway. If you live in a town, that's your choice and you get things like fast broadband, relatively better public transport etc.etc and on the downside, more noise, probably worse air, less picturesque etc.etc. If you choose to live in the country, you get approximately the reverse. Why should townies subsidise the country dwellers and vice versa. At the moment, those in the countryside seem to get a much better deal with their broadband being subsidised and the government even talking about some sort of petrol/diesel subsidy because they have to drive further. That's their choice!!

I guess the reason is because most of the politicians live in country piles and want all the benefits and none of the downsides. Their supporters generally live in similar mansions as well.

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Re: Wispa's superficial analogy

Indeed - and other services are cross-subsidised as well. Witness the delivery of letter to rural areas by postmen in vans. How much is it costing to deliver each item as against those in a suburban area?

That's not to say I'm against all cross-subsidisation, but it's nonsense economics to claim that those who happen, by choice or luck, to be on longer lines to claim that they are somehow being overcharged when the real costs are very much the reverse. If it was left just to be market, many of these places would get no service at all.

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Stop

Re: Wispa's superficial analogy

I couldn't agree more. I wish there was an way to anti-sign this petition which would definitely take the UK back a step in terms of economic motivation to supply internet services nationwide.

Instead of the current model I propose a much fairer pricing scheme with a fixed cost based on line length scaled according to line medium and port density at the exchange and a variable cost based upon how close the line gets to the Shannon limit (probably integrated over the whole month). That accurately reflects the physical limits of the communication channel and the real costs of supplying/maintaining a line.

Strangely that doesn't seem to be terribly popular when I try and convince people to adopt it so perhaps there is some merit in the idea that BT bill ISPs for both port cost and throughput as a crude approximation. That the port costs are fixed simplifies the pricing structure and is arguably fairer, it probably even means that people on short high quality lines are subsidising those on longer lines which require more engineer work over their lifespan.

I'd suggest those campaigning for this should be careful what they wish for:

1. If you make the amount this varies by very small then there's no point in doing it and the administrative costs will most likely outweigh the savings to the end user.

2. Ignoring that and assuming it's a significant discount if you apply it at the wholesale level only then there's likely to be little savings past on from ISPs to users - homogenised billing is quite a big thing and ISPs tend to run on tight margins.

3. If you did large scale price variations and imposed it at the ISP level only or both the ISP and wholesale level then I'd be willing to bet rather a lot that you start seeing ISPs that refuse to serve poor quality lines altogether when it becomes just not worth the hassle.

The argument that this gives an economic incentive to improve speeds is totally bogus though. The only way to improve speeds on a hypothetical exchange with 500 (long) lines is to build one or more extra exchanges, each with less lines.

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@Mad Mike

If you live in a town, that's your choice and you get things like fast broadband, relatively better public transport etc.etc and on the downside, more noise, probably worse air, less picturesque etc.etc.

... having lived in both I'd say in a city the air is better traffic pollution smells far less than say ooooh when the farms have been muck-spreading; or try living near a pig/chicken farm, or having to have a bloke come and empty a septic tank.

As for the noise, at least the noise in cities is at more sensible times (commuter/school runs and pub chucking out time) - you don't get woken up by cockerels at some ungodly hour, or church bells on a Sunday morning.

You can keep the countryside, it's noisy, smelly and boring, has poor infrastructure and crappy net connections, even if it does look pretty ;)

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WTF?

Re: @Mad Mike

Not everyone actually has a free choice where they live. I simply cannot afford to buy a house within the city boundaries, let alone one within walking distance of my work. If I could afford one, then I would get a real choice of broadband supplier, with both of them providing high enough data rates to allow me to work from home without needing to go into the office at all, negating the need to be near the office in the first place...

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Re: Wispa's superficial analogy

Agreed it's a superficial analogy - it smacks of a wishlist mentality and is completely divorced from the reality of how the bits get from A to B.

If we could separate costs we would find most people paying widely varying amounts of line rental for infrastructure that is hugely varied in the speeds it supports - then paying a trivially small sum on top for the amount of data they actually manage to shift. Maybe this is 'better' in that it's closer to the reality of the costs, but I suspect more people would find issue with such a scheme.

I'd be happy though because my short line supporting high speeds would have a smaller line rental compared to the long lines supporting not much...

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Re: @CD001

Just for your information. Traffic fumes are detrimental to health. However quite a few studies show farm "smells" (or particles as they are known) are actually beneficial to health.

I agree they stink though!

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Yep

I endorse.

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I agree completely. I'm on an "upto 8mb!!!!" connection, it's pretty good I actually get around 6mb... that's what? 75%? I should only be required to pay 75% of the bill... truth in advertisement should be more then a election promise.

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I'm on a Plusnet 'up to' 16 meg package and I only receive 1.5 meg, so shurrup!

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Definitely do NOT endorse this...

Wispa have little understanding of the economics of broadband provision, and how it's actually charged. Speed is only really relevant in this context on a 24/7 saturated connection, which will see most subscribers cut off anyway... If you look at providers who are transparent in their pricing and FUPs (e.g. Plusnet) you will see that speed is not the main driving factor in costing.

Downvote you may, but doesn't change the realities!

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Re: Definitely do NOT endorse this...

The issue here isn't really about the economics or anything like that. It's basically about truthful marketing. ISPs are allowed to advertise 'up to' figures and then supply, essentially anything. Whether this is their fault or not and whatever the economics, that's fundamentally misrepresentation. If someone advertises a 10Mb/s link, it should have that speed at all times until you hit the cap. Then, it could be limited according to the conditions of the cap. However, my link never hits the quoted speeds during the day even before it's hit the cap, and I'm on fibre!!

So, when changing, the ISP should quote what you WILL get and the fee. Then, you can take your pick knowing what you'll get in exchange for your money. At the moment, you don't know. Claiming ADSL2+ will give 24Mb/s is dishonest in the extreme as this is only possible under ideal conditions and if you pretty much live in the exchange. We need to move away from headline speeds and onto speeds for your link.

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Go

Surely it's not so hard

To charge people on their sync rate, so if you get 'upto' 8Mbit in your area but your router syncs at 4Mbit (due to your crappy aluminium connections, being far from the exchange, etc) then you pay half the 8MBit price for the duration of that link.

Internet's not expensive but there's defo a case to be answered in there somewhere.

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Re: Surely it's not so hard

So if I fancy a month of cheaper internet access I should be able to just plug the Christmas tree lights in and wrap them around the phone cord? And reconnect the dodgy sockets that work more like an antennae than phone line that the previous owners save a few quid installing on the cheap?

By your logic too backhaul capacity doesn't matter either, so long as I can talk to the exchange really fast, even if all the exchange does is throw away 90% of the packets. Sync speed is not a a good proxy for connection quality alone.

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PN put my estimated max line speed at 5Mb. BT put my estimated max line speed at 8Mb. I'm currently connected at 13Mb. Does that mean I should pay more?

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No, it probably means you should keep quiet around here.

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Unhappy

BT

I found out the hard way what BT consider to be a bad enough line to get out of the contract. I moved house and am at the end of the exchange, and would be getting 3Mbps from a 10Mbps line. Apparently it's only bad enough if it drops to 0.5Mbps...

Not enough to cancel the contract which has 12 months left to run, instead I pay £130 to install at the new place or £170 to buy myself out.

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I recently switched to Sky Unlimited upto 20 meg

Having place the order, their techy bods did various line tests and told me my speed would be between 11 and 15 meg. They are spot on, I can sustain a 15 Mbps at most times of the day, dropping occasionally to 12. I would have liked to have got closer to the 20 but at least I'm getting what I was told to expect, and that for me is the crucial bit.

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Re: I recently switched to Sky Unlimited upto 20 meg

Yep. I don't see a problem here. Clear, open and honest contract. They told you what you would get, you agreed to pay the money and they delivered the goods. Perfect contract, but nowadays, seems pretty unusual.

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Re: I recently switched to Sky Unlimited upto 20 meg

I ordered line rental and broadband from Sky when I moved into my current flat. The line rental was supposed to be activated several weeks before the broadband went live, but it wasn't. I phoned them up and they said from the tests they were running on my line, and due to the distance I was from the exchange, that realisticallly I would only be able to receive around 0.5 meg from them. They deferred activating the line rental order in case I wanted to switch to another provider in light of the fact they couldn't provide me with broadband... which was nice :).

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Problems with this...

This would be OK so long as it's the link speed you get to your exchange. But the same eejits who complain about their net speed right now would complain that their download speed from Timbuktu was 6kB/s even though their local link speed is 24Mb/s. So it doesn't solve the problem of the general public not understanding what any of it means.

The result of course would be a tripling of the nominal price, because many people pay only 1/3 of it... so...

Second problem, so I'm fortunate enough to live near the exchange. I'm happy paying $OldPrice; they introduce this and my costs triple. Can I have it backed off to 1/3 the datarate for 1/3 the money?

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Of course..

..the real answer is paid usage, but no one wants that.

After all, the "up to" speed is totally irrelevant unless you happen to make use of it frequently.

However, if things were to go down a percentage of maximum speed, the physical line provider is the one that should take the biggest hit, not the ISP as they dont have any control over that in most cases.

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Meh

How about £1 a month...

... per Mb of service for those on the standard services? Rounded down obviously, not letting them off that easy.

I get 16Mb through BT and pay a fair price for that. But I wouldn't entertain paying good money for less than 6Mb let alone the 2-3Mb a lot of folks I know have.

If they ISPs are getting hit by how much that can charge for their actual real life speeds they might do something to improve them. Just laziness at the moment.

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Oh and remember folks...

...if you haven't done so already, pulling out the bell wire and upgrading from that 5 year old crappy Thomson router to a decent Billion or Draytek with a better firmware (for those in rural areas) can make a difference.

http://www.increasebroadbandspeed.co.uk/billion-7800n

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Re: Oh and remember folks...

Sadly a number of ISPs (e.g. Sky) are adamant that you use their supplied router. Which usually sucks or has severe limitations in configurability.

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Makes sence and seems completely fair, BUT

Makes sence and seems completely fair, BUT wont happen :(.

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Anonymous Coward

Solution: charge by Volume

Charge by VOLUME sent/received.

If your ISP can't provide you with a connection capable of sending/receiving a large volume of data they don't get paid (regardless of speed).

Fuel is charged by volume. Sugar is charged by volume. Data could be charged by volume.

I pay my ISP by volume.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Solution: charge by Volume

"Fuel is charged by volume."

But, for example, when you pay for one gallon of petrol you pretty much know how far it will get your car.... if you expected to get 30 miles on a gallon and only got 10 miles you might be a bit miffed.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Solution: charge by Volume

.... or if you bought a gallon of petrol and found that it limited your car to 15mph you'd also be a bit miffed.

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Re: Solution: charge by Volume

using miles per gallon is the wrong way around. Your gallon would take you 30 miles in anywhere between 1 hour and 30mins, depending on the road speed, but youd still travel the 30 miles on the 1 gallon.

If your ISP is giving you 10mb, and someone else 5mb, you can both download the same data, just you do it twice as fast, hence paying by volume would cost you the same.

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Not told after you signed the contract..

Sky (when I lived in my student house, I'd never use them otherwise) told me BEFORE we agreed what the speed was to be (6Mb for a 16Mb connection :/ ).

They also told me at the same time with all the legal stuff that this COULD change, and if so I have the right to cancel etc etc.... but the fact remains they told me BEFORE I agreed to it.

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