When it comes to broadband, what exactly is ‘fair useage’?

However, with applications such as BBC iPlayer and cloud computing becoming ever more popular, the stress placed on the average broadband connection is greater than ever – meaning consumers have to be very careful not to fall foul of their broadband provider’s rules.

A recent survey of 1,400 broadband users has highlighted the lack of understanding surrounding fair usage policies and download limits and what they mean for consumers:

  • A fifth (20%) had no idea what the terms of their download limit/fair usage policy was
  • Almost a third (29%) said their ISPs traffic management policy was not explained at point of sale
  • 42% did not know how much online content they downloaded every month, highlighting how easy it can be to inadvertently break their ISPs rules.

Michael Phillips, product director at Broadbandchoices.co.uk commented: “Fair usage policies and download limits are fast becoming the next big grievance between consumers and ISPs and this is mainly due to a lack of understanding around the issue. The streaming of online content, whether it is TV shows, video clips or music files, will only continue to increase and the rules governing this area need to adapt to take into account the changing nature of internet usage.

“Almost a quarter of the people we surveyed (23%) were completely unaware that the vast majority of ‘unlimited’ download packages came with fair usage policies attached. This effectively restricts the amount of online activity users can undertake during certain hours of the day and breaching these rules can result in connection speeds being restricted and penalty fines being incurred.


“An overwhelming 85% felt it was unfair that ISPs could advertise an ‘unlimited’ download package when in reality it came with fair usage or traffic management restrictions.

“The rules governing broadband fair usage policies and download limits need to be taken out of the small print and made clear and easy for everybody to understand. Whilst we do urge broadband users to take responsibility for their downloading habits and find out what the rules are, ISPs also need to do more to raise awareness of this issue, particularly with the Easter holidays fast approaching. When kids are at home there tends to be a peak in online content streaming and parents need to ensure they avoid any unexpected excess usage charges”


Pick the right ISP – Some providers like Be Broadband or O2 Broadband are designed with heavy downloaders in mind. Although their unlimited broadband packages come with fair usage policies attached, both ISPs are more generous with their allowances than most. Both Virgin Media and Sky have top of the range packages with no restrictions at all. Ultimately, you need to compare what is available in your area using an Ofcom-accredited comparison calculator to find the best deal for you.

Download at night – Traffic shaping, which slows down a broadband connection, is applied by many providers during peak hours during the evening. Therefore broadband users who download at night – usually from midnight onwards – should find their music and movie files download a lot quicker. Some packages like PlusNet’s Pro plan, offer free overnight downloading, so it won’t come out of your monthly usage allowance.

Turn off your peer-to-peer – Some programs use peer-to-peer software to share files faster between users. However simply closing them will let them continue to run in the background uploading files to the sharing network. This not only slows a connection down, but will also eat away at your download allowance as uploading also counts against usage limits. Make sure that you fully exit the program each time you close it, and use your task manager to check that it’s not running any more.

Track your usage – If you have a set download limit, or you’re concerned about exceeding your fair usage allowance, then installing a free Broadband Download Monitor is a great way of tracking your downloads and you can even set alarms to alert you as you near your limit.