Uncapped ADSL throttling and fair use

Telkom recently warned its subscribers that those on uncapped ADSL packages may have their connections throttled or shaped should their usage be deemed excessive.

In a press statement issued after users started complaining about the warnings, Telkom said its Internet service provider (ISP) had decided to enforce its fair usage policy (FUP).

This announcement from Telkom is almost an echo of Mweb’s warning to subscribers a year ago (August 2013).

Like Telkom, Naspers-owned Mweb said it would be enforcing its acceptable use police (AUP) more strictly.

This caused a major backlash among Mweb subscribers at the time, and many of their complaints also apply to Telkom’s recent announcement:

  1. Subscribers are not told exactly what the threshold is for “excessive usage”. Mweb eventually started telling users what the usage thresholds were (in Gigabytes) when they asked.
  2. Customers were not given enough time to cancel their accounts before the new FUP/AUP implementations kicked in.

With the pioneer of affordable uncapped ADSL in South Africa (Mweb) and the largest ADSL ISP (Telkom Internet) announcing more aggressive policing of uncapped users, one has to ask…

Is this the death knell for uncapped in SA?

Shane Chorley
Shane Chorley

Most ADSL service providers we questioned about this development agree that this is not the beginning of the end for uncapped ADSL, with the exception of Vox Telecom.

Shane Chorley, executive head of network and operations at Vox Telecom said that they believe this could be the first signs of the demise of uncapped ADSL.

“It is one of the many reasons we launched Fat Pipe, Chorley said. He added that Vox wanted to offer customers the best possible Internet experience at the fastest possible line speed.

“The reality is that abusers will be shaped and uncapped ADSL will no longer be an option for them,” Chorley said.

Honeymoon over for heavy users

Mweb Uncapped ADSL account usage thresholds
Standard accounts Price Threshold R/GB (before AUP)
2Mbps R199 ±70GB R2.84
4Mbps R239 ±110GB R2.17
6Mbps R359 ±150GB R2.39
10Mbps R599 ±250GB R2.40
Premium Accounts Price Threshold R/GB (before AUP)
1Mbps R199 ±100GB R1.99
2Mbps R369 ±200GB R1.85
4Mbps R539 ±400GB R1.35
6Mbps R699 ±600GB R1.17
10Mbps R999 ±950GB R1.05
Prices listed above are for Mweb’s account-only options
Derek Hershaw Mweb
Derek Hershaw

If not the death knell, does it mean heavy users simply won’t be able to download hundreds of Gigabytes per month anymore?

Asked for his take on Telkom’s announcement, Mweb ISP boss Derek Hershaw said he hopes that this is an indication that Telkom Internet now has to buy its wholesale ADSL capacity (also called IP Connect, or IPC) from Telkom Wholesale on the same terms that all the other ISPs have to.

“The playing fields have been levelled a bit,” Hershaw said.

He said he does think the honeymoon is over for extremely heavy users on lower line speeds.

“ISPs just cannot afford to cross-subsidise their usage from the rest of their customer base,” Hershaw said.

Laurie Fialkov
Laurie Fialkov

Cybersmart CEO Laurie Fialkov had a similar point of view, saying the honeymoon is over for those users buying uncapped products that are not suited to their needs.

“If they know they are doing hundreds of gigs per month they should never have chosen a home product,” he said.

Fialkov highlighted that home uncapped ADSL products now cost much less than when Mweb first launched their 4Mbps uncapped ADSL account for R539 per month.

This has now become Mweb’s “premium” uncapped package, while its standard 4Mbps uncapped account costs R239.

Cybersmart has a similar pricing structure, offering 4Mbps home uncapped ADSL accounts for R295/month, while a 4Mbps Smart Business Uncapped account costs R479/month.

Fialkov said the price drop seen in home uncapped accounts does not correlate with price reductions in IPC from Telkom.

“If market conditions had allowed the price to remain steady then the very cheap home products would not exist and the FUPs would probably never have been enforced,” Fialkov said.

Gian Visser Afrihost
Gian Visser Afrihost

The CEO of Afrihost, Gian Visser, also said that users needed to choose a package that is most suited to their needs.

“We all need to have realistic expectations of what is possible given an ISP’s upstream costs,” Visser said. “An ISP’s challenge is now to become more creative and find ways to deliver great experiences and value without radically increasing their overheads.”

Visser said that subscribers who heavily use streaming or gaming protocols could still move a lot of data, but that BitTorrent traffic would likely be shaped or throttled significantly.

“We’re totally okay with our clients getting as much value for their money as possible, as long as it doesn’t impact the overall experience of our other clients who share the network,” Visser said.

Tim Wyatt-Gunning
Tim Wyatt-Gunning

Web Africa chief Tim Wyatt-Gunning said they have seen a swing towards capped packages, a pattern that is set to continue.

“The swing is due to high-end capped packages becoming much more affordable — they are more than 90% cheaper than they were 3 years ago — with none of the speed restrictions placed on similarly priced uncapped packages,” Wyatt-Gunning said.

In terms of FUPs and AUPs, he said Web Africa has always thought that ISPs need some way to slow down the small percentage of customers who push very high data volumes, yet pay the same as a customer who uses a fraction of what high-end users do.

“We have always enforced our usage policy because we think it is fairer across our customer base,” Wyatt-Gunning said. “In the long term, we believe it is better to be consistent rather than to promote an unrestrictive policy which we would ultimately have to withdraw. ”

He added that for those heavy downloaders who are finding their uncapped connections shaped or throttled, there are some amazing deals to promote more off-peak usage.

Assuming that most experienced downloaders know how to schedule their downloads, he said that there are several ISPs who have packages that would suit the needs of such users.

“As long as the off-peak traffic doesn’t catch up with the peak traffic volumes — and at the moment they are miles apart — ISPs will always be keen to offer good deals to fill up a network they have already paid for,” Wyatt-Gunning said.

Telkom responds

Telkom said that it believes uncapped will live on, despite FUPs being enforced more aggressively.

“The market has adopted the uncapped concept eagerly as can be seen from the rate of take-up,” a spokesperson for the company said. “Telkom is confident that many customers have extracted great value from the uncapped profile.”

It said that its recent decision to enforce its FUP is to try and manage the uncapped user profile to ensure a positive experience for all users.

“Customers with a requirement of Terabytes of data have the option to subscribe to offers that are better suited to that type of profile, but these do have cost implications,” Telkom said.

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Uncapped ADSL throttling and fair use