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Which? Magazine Calls for Broadband ISP Speed Guarantee.. Again

Monday, November 17th, 2014 (9:17 am) - Score 1,052

Consumer magazine Which? has once again called for Internet providers to offer consumers a Broadband Speed Guarantee after its latest online survey of over 2,000 UK adults found that only 5% of people agreed that the way service speeds are currently advertised is the clearest way.

According to the survey, 94% said price was the most important factor influencing their choice of broadband deal, although 88% agreed that the second most important factor was service speed (it’s not clear quite how these questions were formed). Furthermore 25% said they would choose a different deal if they had better information on their broadband speed.

The study also noted that only 12% of respondents were aware of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) rule for broadband speed promotions, which requires that an ISP should be able to demonstrate that its advertised speeds are achievable by at least 10% of users. Most ISPs also provide customers with a sort of “typical speed” range (e.g. “X% of our customers receive speeds between ?Mbit/s and ?Mbit/s”), especially if the line is in an area where slower speeds are more prevalent.

As a result Which?’s “give us broadband speed guaranteed” campaign has called on the ASA to tougher up its rules by 1) requiring all adverts making speed claims (e.g. “superfast”) to quantify these claims, 2) ensure that advertised speeds are available to the majority of customers (i.e. 51% or more), not the minority, and 3) require ISPs to be upfront about how many people can actually get the speed advertised.

Richard Lloyd, Which?’s Executive Director, said:

Internet connection is now an essential part of modern life so it beggars belief that providers can sell people short by advertising speeds that only 10% of customers could receive.

We want advertising watchdogs to pull the plug on confusing adverts and ensure broadband providers show the speeds the majority of customers will actually get.

In the meantime, companies need to be more up-front with customers about the speeds they can expect.”

Interestingly the three demands appear to represent a softer and more balanced tone than the one that Which? took in March 2014 (here), when they also called for the Speed Guarantee to allow people to exit contracts without penalty if they don’t get the promoted speed and to fix a loss of connection as quickly as possible, while also refunding people for the loss of service.

The original demands would have effectively been akin to giving home broadband consumers a business style connection with more SLA flexibility than even businesses get, which while admirable would have also risked a significant price rise and neglected the fact that most infrastructure issues tend to be caused by the underlying BTOpenreach platform rather than the ISP (a complex problem to balance). Obviously that excludes Virgin Media and smaller altnet ISPs, which run their own networks.

Not to mention that Ofcom’s Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds, which admittedly not all providers have joined, means that customers can already leave their ISP, without penalty, within the first 3 months of a new contract if a significant problem with their speed cannot be resolved (we can see room for improvement here).

By comparison the new proposals seem to be a lot more grounded, although we can see that a rule focused around the “majority” (51%+) of speed might discourage ISPs from offering services in rural areas or locations where connectivity is already know to be poor. But certainly there’s room for improvement in the rules, just so long as being too strict doesn’t limit choice for some people or force prices into a dramatic rise.

Leave a Comment
13 Responses
  1. Avatar DanielM says:

    it would appear Which? has retards working for them who clearly need to study this field more.

    you cannot give a Speed Guarantee for a shared service. it’s impossible.

    1. Avatar gerarda says:

      Then the ISPs should not make claims for speed that are unreasonable bearing in mind that contention, and you should be allowed to get out of a contract which offers significantly less than was promised.

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      You can give speed guarantees on shared services. It’s a matter of appropriate capacity management. However, that is, of course a guarantee in the contractual sense. In other words some form of recompense if the guarantee isn’t met. For example, we don’t expect that a guarantee on a TV means that it won’t ever fail, but that if it does,

      What is more difficult (and vastly more expensive) is to provide an absolute, rather than contractual guarantee as providing capacity for everybody to saturate their broadband links simultaneously is simply neither cost-effective or sensible. After all, if everybody in the country turned on all their electrical appliances at the same time it would break the grid.

      Of course the other issue is a guarantee of speed from where to where. There are umpteen places where contention can occur, some of which are under the SP’s control, whilst others are not. For instance, WiFi congestion, congestion on servers, issues with the Internet beyond the peering points and so on. In many cases, the customer won’t have a clue where the problem is happening.

    3. Avatar DanielM says:


      Comparing sweden and the UK to connectivity is silly at best.

    4. Avatar Ignitionnet says:

      Apart from the 1Gb service the rest of those guaranteed tiers are HFC – the same technology Virgin Media run.

      Are you saying that Comhem’s networks, or the Swedish MANs, aren’t shared somehow?

    5. Avatar hmmm says:

      yeah you should able to get out of contract when they cannot guarantee the speed you should get but it should be finalised and tested to what speed you should able to get not bloody estimates malarkey .

  2. Avatar Simon Zerafa says:

    If BT OpenReach actually published accurate line stats so that ISP could reliably estimate speeds then this might be possible.

    At this stage it appears this information only goes to the PCP level and then appears to be a estimate not actual tested speeds on a statistically significent sample of the lines.

    No ISP could offer such a guarantee of speed on any line until such time as BT OpenReach has a legal obligation to provide a minimum speed on any specific line.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      A legal minimum could be eg. 100k.

  3. Much more sensible, in my humble view, would be for Which to campaign about long duration contracts. If the contract is a rolling month type, then customers could just choose with their feet if they are not happy with the speed they get (or indeed any other aspect of the service).

    1. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      I’d agree, but then this has all come about largely because ISPs have engaged in a war of promoting broadband using infeasibly low entry pricing on the advertisements (and including equipment, connection fees and so on). Of course that inevitably means long contracts. Of course the mobile market pioneered this apparently something-for-nothing exercise with handsets subsidised by very long contracts, but at least they didn’t engage in silly entry pricing.

      The first thing would be for the ASA to clamp down on advertising standards as regards “headline” pricing and giving at least equal prominence to full costs over the contract period.

      Contract lengths are more the realm of Ofcom. Personally, I would like to see all providers forced to offer alternatives to the long contract offers including, of course, the appropriate costs for connection and termination. Equipment like routers should be optional. It doesn’t mean that long contracts can’t be offered, but currently they are unavoidable. At least with mobile there is PAYG.

    2. Avatar Strzelecki says:

      Plenty of ISP’s that offer short contracts and optional equipment. But 9 times out of 10 the costs are higher than ‘the big boys’ and 94% of those surveyed stated that cost was the main decider. People want a guaranteed speed but don’t want to pay for it apparently.

  4. Avatar Tim says:

    Pushing for a guaranteed speed could come a the cost of “unlimited” services and this would not be good for a lot of users that have come to expect to be able to use their connection as they like.

    At the end of the day residential broadband is contended, that is why it is cheap(ish). Therefore it is hard to guarantee a minimum unless we go back to defining contention ratios like we had before ADSL MAX.

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