Users Risk Christmas Penalty From Too Much Online TV

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

An increasing number of people are watching their favourite TV shows online, but are risking a penalty for excessive downloading

A new survey has found that more people are planning to watch online TV this festive season, but they are risking a penalty for exceeding their download limit.

Thirty-two percent of broadband users plan to watch more online TV this festive season, according to Broadbandchoices.co.uk, which polled 1400 users in October. 

The research came to light just as the BBC was given the go ahead to participate in Project Canvas, a video-on-demand service in conjunction with five other broadcasters.

In the UK, the vast majority of broadband packages come with a download limit and/or a ‘fair usage policy’, said the company. Download limits essentially restrict the physical amount of downloading a person can do using their broadband connection, while the fair usage policies tend to penalise users for downloading at the certain times of the day. ISPs have the option to penalise the offender for exceeding his download limit by imposing a punitive fine or “throttling” (restricting) their connection speed.

“Anyone planning to catch up on their favourite TV shows using their broadband connection this Christmas should check the terms of their download limit and fair usage policy to ensure they are not in danger of receiving a penalty fine or having their connection speed throttled,” said Michael Phillips, product director at Broadbandchoices.co.uk.

“The use of online TV services is clearly only going to increase in the future, so it is crucial that consumers understand that even if a broadband package says it is ‘unlimited’ it is still highly likely that it will have some form of fair usage policy attached. Once broadband users have exceeded their download limit or fair usage terms, they will not be able to plead ignorance to avoid the consequences,” he warned.

The rising popularity of online TV comes amid concerns that illegal file-sharing is as widespread as ever, despite plans by the British government to cut off illegal file-sharers.

So what can you do if you fancy catching up with your favourite TV show online this Christmas? Broadbandchoices.co.uk has the following tips for online TV downloading:

  • Pick the right ISP – Some providers like Be Broadband or O2 Broadband are designed with heavy downloaders in mind. Although their ‘unlimited’ packages come with fair usage policies attached, both ISPs are more generous with their allowances than most. 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 – Programs like the BBC iPlayer 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.