Is your ISP capping your bandwidth?

UTorrent logoRecently, I’ve noticed a massive slowdown in the speed of the torrents I’ve been downloading with uTorrent. Despite double checking that my IP address is static and that the router ports are open, my download speeds are back to what they were when I first installed the program on a dynamic IP address with no ports open.

Since I’m sure the problem is not at my end, my only conclusion is that my ISP has flagged uTorrent as a bandwidth heavy application and blocked the traffic coming through it. Bandwidth capping is obviously a hard thing to prove because only your ISP really knows what’s going on behind the scenes and of course, they’re not going to reveal to you which applications they’ve flagged. As wikipedia points out, bandwidth capping is the only way ISPs have been able to deal with the huge increase in people using static, rather than dynamic, IP addresses to download torrents and stream other large amounts of data:

Many ISPs engineered their facilities in the 1990s to use dynamic capacity allocation to serve multiple bursty users. Each user is expected to use high speed transmission for only a short time, for example to download a megabyte web page in less than a second. When use is continuous, as for file sharing or Internet radio or streaming video, a few users who use the connection at high rates for hours at a time may seriously impair the service of others.

However, if you approach an ISP expressing concerns that you think your bandwidth may have been capped, you’ll probably be given the same old spiel that AT&T gave the Gizmodo blog:

We have said consistently that AT&T will not allow itself to become a policeman or enforcement agent on the Internet. We have also made clear that there is nothing inherently wrong with P2P applications like BitTorrent, which are advanced, and legal, technologies that are used and welcomed on our network. We do not block or degrade any P2P application to manage network congestion. At the same time, we feel that any company involved with the Internet should be concerned about illegal activity, whether it is identity theft or intellectual property theft.

Some ISPs may venture to admit that they do use some kind of method to control bandwidth across their network. In the case of Comcast for example, Gizmodo did at least manage to get an admission of “delaying” tactics on their part when it comes to controlling traffic:

We have a responsibility to provide all of our customers with a good Internet experience and we use the latest technologies to manage our network so that they can continue to enjoy these applications. During periods of heavy peer-to-peer congestion, which can degrade the experience for all customers, we use several network management technologies that, when necessary, enable us to delay—not block—some peer-to-peer traffic.

However, in the UK some operators have already taken the initiative and introduced capping quite publicly. Virgin were one of the first to do so last year claiming that 5% of users were downloading as much as 3GB of data during peak times which “amounts to 750 music tracks in just a few hours”. With HD and BluRay videos now flooding torrent sites and forums, the demands on bandwidth are going to increase dramatically.

There’s obviously a limit on how much can be downloaded over a network without it collapsing and bandwidth caps are perfectly understandable until technology and broadband infrastructures advance but bringing uTorrent to a virtual standstill seems excessive.

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