BT defends download limits

Update: Industry experts are unimpressed by BT's plans to restrict peer-to-peer downloading on its broadband service, but the company insists it is trying to maintain service quality
Written by Graeme Wearden, Contributor

The Consumers' Association has accused BT of treating its customers unfairly after the company admitted that it was throttling the use of peer-to-peer (P2P) applications on its BTopenworld broadband service.

Alan Stevens, head of digital services at the Consumers' Association, told ZDNet News that his organisation has received "a significant number" of complaints about BTopenworld recently, and that consumers were fed up with this latest disappointment. "Companies must be clear with customers about what they will receive for their money. This looks like BT is changing the rules in the middle of the game," Stevens said.

BT has warned that people using peer-to-peer applications will find that their download speeds will be much slower than the might expect from a high-speed Internet connection. BT said the "traffic controls" were necessary if it is to offer a working broadband service to all its users. It is planning to relax the restrictions between 1.30am and 9am -- a move that did little to assuage the company's critics.

"It does seem rather unreasonable that people who have paid for the right to enjoy high-speed Internet access will be turned into night owls by BT," said Stevens.

The move is at odds with the vision of Broadband Britain that BT's chief executive Sir Peter Bonfield has been promoting. Delivering the 2001 Hinton Lecture last week, Bonfield eulogised about the benefits of a high-speed home Internet connection. "With a conventional local connection, downloading a piece of music is pretty slow and you might as well put the kettle on. With a broadband connection, the file is there in seconds," he told listeners.

It seems that BT's latest move will see plenty of frustrated broadband users reaching for the kettle, or possibly even moving to a rival service. One user has already told ZDNet that if his family are affected by these restrictions he will be cancelling his Openworld account.

BT told ZDNet that is was unlikely that music downloading would be badly affected. "We have found that just one or two percent of our users have been taking up a lot of bandwidth with peer-to-peer applications and downloading 1GB or larger files," a BT spokesman said. He added that the restrictions would not come into play if the network wasn't busy.

Many subscribers are furious, however.

One BTopenworld user told ZDNet that the traffic restrictions have been in force for months, but BT's staff have been consistently denying that any such policy was in place. Another BTopenworld user has often found that a simple task like opening an email can take a long time, and that Web-browsing can be problematic at peak times.

Paul Myers, chief executive of legal P2P music service Wippit, thinks BT might be trying to discourage broadband users from staying constantly connected to the Internet. "Anyone who is always connected to the Web is an expensive customer for BT, as they're likely to tie up the limited connections in the local exchanges," he said. "Talk of peer-to-peer downloading being the problem could well just be a cover," he suggested.

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