Qwest Says It's Throttling Customer's Online Video Streaming, Then Says It's Not

Update: It turns out the problem is with OpenDNS, not Qwest. The original post is below.

A Qwest customer in Washington has been having trouble viewing streaming video, but suspiciously everything else he accesses online seems to come through at the advertised speed. After a long phone call today where he was passed among agents and technicians repeatedly, he ended up being told that Qwest reserves the right to throttle users who exhibit “excessive use.” Ah, that old term again. So what counts as excessive use to Qwest? According to their FAQ, it could be as little as exceeding 3 gigabytes per month.

I live in western Washington. My DSL provider is Qwest: I bought 1.5Mb/800Kb service. About a week ago, my companion said that her download speed with YouTube, TED and others was substantially less than it had been. I suggested that it might be the outbound load on host site. Her complaints about poor performance persisted.

This morning I ran some standard tests: speed test (speedtest.net) reports that I have the full 1.5Mb/sec I bought. I tried viewing a YouTube video, a long one (50 minutes) and found the experience painful, about 20% of the speed it should be. I suspected Qwest of rate limiting. I used an external proxy server to view the same YouTube video. It appeared to download at full speed.

I called Qwest DSL support. They were unhelpful, even when I escalated to a supervisor. I next called “customer service”. The lady I talked to said she wasn’t a techie and barely understood the terms “rate limiting” and the like. She transferred me to “Broadband Retention”. I explained the apparent rate limiting to that individual. He denied knowing anything about it, but did transfer me to “Louis” in some tech department (not regular DSL support). I explained my observations and tests one more time to “Louis”. He denied that Qwest was rate limiting. Louis did put me on hold for a good while. When he came back he referred me to the Qwest “subscriber agreement” at:

http://www.qwest.com/legal/highspeedinternetsubscriberagreementfilesHSI_Subscriber_Agreement_ENG_v20_042209.pdf

He cites the second page, end of the first paragraph, where it says that Qwest may limit speeds. He also cites a “FAQ on Excessive use Policy”

http://www.qwest.com/internethelp/eup/16915_EUP_Details-15.pdf

and admitted that Qwest was, indeed, rate limiting YouTube and other streaming sites.

I asked for a discount based on degraded service. Louis conferenced me to “Jason” in the “loyalty group”. I told Jason that I thought 1.5Mb/sec but with rate limited access to YouTube, etc, was worth about $10/month. Jason offered $15/month for 3 months. I said, “Not good enough. Make it permanent”. He declined.

I told both Jason and Louis that would post a summary of my discussion with Qwest to Consumerist, Reddit and Slashdot. I ended the conversation with a polite “Good day”.

About 20 minutes later Louis called to change his previous statement that Qwest rate limits YouTube and others. He now declares that Qwest does not rate limit. — From my observation, it does appear that Qwest does rate limit. Maybe smarter folks than I can determine the truth.

We wonder just what kind of conversation Louis had with his supervisor or another technician in that 20 minutes before he called you back to change his statement.

For the record, here are a couple of sections from the FAQ linked above. They’re not exactly contradictory, but there seems to be a lot of uncharted middle ground between a 3 GB soft cap and the “excessive” examples that immediately follow.

What is considered “normal” usage on the Internet?
Most customers who use broadband service at their homes use approximately 1-3 Gigabytes per month. This figure is slightly higher for business customers.

What is considered “excessive” or “high volume” use?
A very small percentage of Qwest Broadband customers fall into the “excessive” or “high volume” use category. Examples of “excessive” or “high volume” use are as follows:
• 300,000-500,000 photo downloads in one month
• 40,000 to 80,000 typically sized MP3 music downloads in one month
• 15+ million unique e-mails each month
• Online TV video streaming of 1,000-3,000 30-minute shows each month
• 2-5 million Web page visits (approximately one every second, 24 hours per day)


Updates:
1. The OP provides a little more information in the comments below on the speed tests he’s performed.

2. A Qwest spokesperson contacted us and said under no circumstances do they throttle YouTube traffic:

We just want to be clear that Qwest doesn’t block lawful Internet traffic on its network; never has. It is our responsibility to make sure that our network delivers an optimal Internet experience to customers. If a customer is transferring volumes of data comparable to commercial-grade volumes (hundreds of times more than normal use – examples are included in your story), we have the products to meet those needs and we work closely with these customers to get them the right service.

They also told us they have a Twitter account if you need to reach a Qwest person to discuss a problem you haven’t been able to resolve through the standard channels: http://twitter.com/talktoqwest.