ISPs to come clean on Internet throttling

BT, Virgin Media and Sky are among the major UK Internet service providers who will open up about how they slow down certain connections in order to maintain overall network performance.

ISPs have long been suspected of choking the connections of heavy users, and those fond of regularly hogging bandwidth using services like BitTorrent, in order to maintain decent download speeds for average users. But, until now, the methods used to carry out 'traffic shaping' have been less than open.

Now a group of major ISPs under the umbrella of the Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG) have promised to come clean about they way the fiddle connection speeds after critics claimed the practice was just a sneaky way of creating a two-tier Internet.

"There is a core of consumers who understand this stuff quite well, but it's not something that most people are aware of at this stage," Anthony Walker from the BSG told the BBC.

Some companies already publish details of their Internet choking policies but this move will mean that every company will use the same reporting methods, making is simpler to compare ISPs like-for-like.

In general, tasks like sending e-mails and viewing web pages are slowed down so that bandwidth intensive tasks - like playing online games and viewing video, for which a lag of a few milliseconds can make a world of difference - are given priority.

But there's also a fear in some quarters that P2P services like BitTorrent, which has many legitimate uses alongside the more nefarious ones, will be unjustly hobbled.

There's also a suggestion that users will be able to pay a premium for an unfettered connection which will hardly be a barrier to the hard-core pirates.