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Virgin Media accused of shafting customers on upload rates

Ex-NTL lines draw the slow straw

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Updated Virgin Media is facing charges from customers connected to certain parts of its network that it is misleading them about the speed of their broadband connections.

Subscribers to the firm's cheapest "M" broadband package are told in publicity material they are able to upload data at 256Kbit/s, but a modem config file posted at Cableforum.co.uk shows the speed is actually 200kbit/s.

The discrepancy stems from Virgin Media's heritage as two separate cable companies, NTL and Telewest. "M" subscribers connecting via former Telewest infrastructure at Knowsley near Liverpool get the upstream speed promised by its product information. Meanwhile, customers served by ex-NTL head-ends at Langley and Bromley have to settle for slower gear.

Which would be fine and an understandable legacy of a merger if Virgin Media was upfront about it. Instead, it chose to disclose only the higher speed on its "open and transparent" traffic management page.

Virgin Media did not immediately respond to a request for comment today. We'll update this story if it does.

The difference in upload speed might seem trivial, but any further speed restriction is likely to draw ire from customers thanks to Virgin Media's peak-time bandwidth throttling policy for the heaviest users.

Virgin Media has also been a keen participant in a tit-for-tat battle with rival ISPs over misleading marketing. For over a year the major ISPs have made claim and counter claim to the Advertising Standards Authority that their competitors are playing dirty with tricksy "fair use" small print. In that light, Virgin Media's failure to reveal that most of its "M" customers don't get what they pay for is hypocritical.

Ofcom's broadband code of practice will apply from next year and aim to improve transparency. ®

Update

Virgin Media returned with this statement:

Since merger we have made significant progress on integrating and improving our legacy systems. So far we have completed a massive billing centralisation project, launched a new 20Mb service and upgraded customers to higher broadband speeds for free.

Work to align minor differences in speeds across the NTL and Telewest customer bases is ongoing and should be complete very soon, along with further initiatives to reinforce our position as the UK's leading residential broadband service. We apologise for any confusion and will be updating our website accordingly.

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