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Starlink's rocket speeds hit a 50 megabit wall for large downloads

Disgruntled customers claim throttling happens any time of the day or night

Starlink users in the UK claim their download speeds appear to be getting capped at about 50Mbit/sec if they try to retrieve large files from the web. Some reckon this amounts to mis-selling, saying they are not being provided with the advertised speed for the service.

In a Reddit thread highlighted by a reader, British customers of the Starlink satellite broadband service complained the speed of their connection was being limited if they were downloading anything for more than 10–15 minutes.

"My is over 200Mb here in rural Aberdeenshire but right enough the throughput reduces to slightly over 50Mb when downloading large files even though it starts off well over 150Mb for the first 10 minutes or so," one poster gripes.

Starlink's advertised speeds are 25–100Mbit/sec for its Standard fixed broadband service, and 40–220Mbit/sec for the premium "Priority" version of the service.

These speeds are not guaranteed. As the company states in its Service Description, actual speeds may be lower than expected during times of high usage, and performance varies based on location and time of day.

In line with many other broadband providers, Starlink also has a Fair Use policy, under which it reserves the right to "manage the network to balance Starlink supply with user demand." This includes the right to take "additional network management measures as necessary" to "prevent or mitigate network congestion on the Services, including reducing speeds for some or all users."

This all sounds fair enough, yet disgruntled customers on the Reddit thread claim the bandwidth throttling happens at all times of the day and night, whenever they attempt to download a large file. In other words, they reckon the speed cap experience is not related to network conditions, but kicks in automatically if a user is making a large download.

According to some of those customers, this is tantamount to mis-selling. They claim the service should be described and sold by Starlink as a 50Mbit/sec service.

"There is no universe in which my entire geographical area, which consists of 100,000 people, needs to be restricted at 4am. It's an automatic hard cap that triggers regardless of network conditions," wrote another Reddit user, adding this "effectively means that the speed of the network is 50–55mbps and not the 25-200mbps advertised. It also doesn't meet the definition of the limitations on the service, which state the cap as a reactionary measure to preserve network integrity during or in lieu of high network congestion."

We asked the UK telecoms regulator Ofcom what the rules are regarding broadband providers and download speeds.

It told us: "A provider is required to explain key information about the speed of the service and its approach to managing internet traffic in your contract. It must also publish this information."

For fixed networks, a broadband provider must set out in its contract the minimum, normally available, maximum and advertised download/upload speeds of the internet access service.

The contract must also set out how the provider's traffic management policy could affect the quality of the internet access service and user privacy, and how any data caps, speed, and other quality of service measures could affect its internet access service.

Ofcom also told us there are net neutrality rules that broadband providers must follow.

These state that a provider "must not block access to, slow down ('throttle'), or discriminate in other ways between internet traffic on its network, unless it is necessary to do so for legal, security or emergency reasons."

Another is that "provider may take reasonable measures to manage its internet traffic, so that its network runs smoothly. But these measures should not be taken for longer than necessary. Your provider must be absolutely clear about its traffic management policy and practices."

If the disgruntled customers on Reddit are right, it could be argued that Starlink is discriminating against traffic involving large downloads, and that it has not been absolutely clear to subscribers about its traffic management policies.

That's a big if, of course. Ofcom states that if a customer is concerned about their broadband speed, they should in the first instance make a formal complaint to the provider.

If the complaint remains unresolved after eight weeks or reaches a deadlock situation, the customer can take it to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme which will make an impartial assessment of the case.

Starlink has instructions online for how to complain about its service, and also lists a dispute resolution service to which customers can take any unresolved issues.

In a statement sent to El Reg, Ofcom said: "Although Ofcom cannot resolve individual complaints, customers can also complain to us, and we use this information as part of our monitoring work. Should we identify specific concerns with how our rules are being followed, we will consider whether it is appropriate to take formal action."

We contacted Starlink via its SpaceX parent company for a response to these customer claims, and we will update the article if we get an answer. ®

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