QLD ISP's VoIP traffic prioritisation causes a stir

To download sizeable material at broadband speeds from the Internet, Gunnar Everwien has to wait until the hours between midnight and 7am. This inconvenience is the price he pays for not being aware of the finer details of his unlimited broadband plan.

Everwien signed up with Queensland-based telecommunications carrier and Internet service provider Commslogic in November 2005, lured by the promise of "unlimited" broadband.

But after two months of unrestricted peer-to-peer downloading and seamless service, Everwien noticed his connection speed slowing to a crawl.

"It was working beautifully for two months. But then I noticed from one day to the next my downloading slowed, and not a little, but a lot," said Everwien.

After calling the ISP's help desk, Everwien was directed to a press release on the Commslogic Web site that stated: "Customers who use peer-to-peer will continue to enjoy full speed usage from 12am to 7am, seven days a week, so simply set and forget."

As a result, Everwien's average P2P download speed of 90-100Kbps slowed to 1-2Kbps when he tried to download material outside the designated times.

"I confess that I'm a heavy user, but when something is advertised as unlimited you expect to get it, and limited speeds between certain times is definitely not unlimited," he said.

Everwien admitted to not reading the full terms of his contract but insists that he called Commslogic to ascertain any fine print before signing. He was not told of any restrictions on P2P downloads.

A Commslogic spokesperson defended the company. "We're a new company and we're here to stay. We've had over a $10 million investment made in this company and there are plans for it to grow. We are definitely not here to rip people off."

The spokesperson maintained that the broadband plans were unequivocally unlimited in download capacity and speed, but said re-prioritisation of certain protocols had been introduced to favour its majority customer base.

"We are unlimited and we don't charge anything for downloads or slow people down at all," the spokesperson said. "We have simply prioritised VoIP and Web browsing during the daytime because we are a telecommunications carrier."

"Unlike Telstra and Optus, who don't prioritise IP telephony at all, we do because we want our IP traffic to be the best IP telephony traffic and best quality possible," the spokesperson said.

Although this policy is not favoured by the P2P downloading customer base, it has pleased other Commslogic customers.

"Personally, I am overjoyed at the moment," said Whirlpool forum poster, gsc4 (http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=472781&p=1). "The prioritisation of VoIP traffic has completely fixed the VoIP issues I was having, which will save me a bundle on my phone bill."

However, it was not just the low prioritisation of P2P downloads that upset Everwien, but the lack of communication in notifying Commslogic customers.

"We weren't asked or even surveyed about the changes. I only found out after calling technical assistance," he said.

The Commslogic spokesperson said the company would like to send weekly or monthly communication to customers but had not yet implemented a system to do so.

"In this situation, it affected very few of our customers, less than 1 per cent, therefore the need for a mass email was not appropriate," according to the spokesperson.

"Our average customer downloads 40GB a month. We're not talking about people getting shaped to 5MB of downloads a month. People are still downloading a great deal," the Commslogic spokesperson said.

Since prioritising, the company has had only one or two P2P-related cancellations of the service, said the spokesperson.

Understanding definitions

The word "unlimited" appears to create some conjecture for consumers when applied to broadband Internet plans.

In July last year, Consumer Affairs Victoria warned consumers to be wary of the term "unlimited" in broadband Internet contracts and to read the fine print.

In a media release from the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Marsha Thomson said leading ISPs had withdrawn advertisements and agreed to refrain from using the word "unlimited" until they had guidance under which circumstances the use of the word is acceptable.

"Optus, Primus, iiNet, Ozemail and several other providers acted promptly by removing references to "unlimited" when the problem was brought to their attention," stated the release.

Although this is in contrast to Commslogic plans, which actually do offer unlimited download plans (albeit with prioritised traffic), with tougher scrutiny on the use of term "unlimited," the next debate may be branching into the nature of unlimited speeds.

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