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UPDATE 50 UK MPs Call for Better Advertising of Broadband ISP Speeds

Saturday, April 16th, 2016 (8:17 am) - Score 1,830

The cross-party British Infrastructure Group (BIG), which is led by Grant Schapps MP, has announced the launch of a new campaign that aims to change the “scandal” of how most ISPs advertise broadband speeds that only 10% of the fastest customers can actually achieve.

At present the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) requires that an ISP should be able to demonstrate that its advertised speeds are achievable by at least 10% of users (details) and providers are also required to supply customers with a “typical speed” range to help reflect that every line is different (this is usually supplied and personalised to individual subscribers) and that some people will receive a maximum speed that is much lower than the advertised rate.

On top of that Ofcom’s voluntary Broadband Speed Code of Practice allows consumers to exit their contract at any time if their service speed falls below a designated Minimum Guaranteed Access Line Speed (MGALS), which reflects the speed achieved by the slowest 10% of the ISP’s customers (e.g. it’s around 0.8Mbps for ADSL2+ packages; variable between ISPs). However ISPs are given a chance to resolve such complaints before that happens, although if the problem is related to infrastructure then simply swapping providers won’t always help.

The ASA recently reported that all of these measures have caused consumer complaints about broadband speed to drop by half (here), although this is also partly because many ISPs have stopped promoting service speeds in their adverts. Never the less Grant Schapps and 50 cross-party MPs believe that the old 10% rule is a “scandal” and so today they’ve launched a new ‘British Broadband Rip-Off‘ campaign to stop it.

Grant Schapps MP said (Telegraph):

“It’s a scandal that official watchdog rules allow Internet Service Providers to claim download speeds which only 1 in 10 of their customers actually receive. Consumers expect refunds when their trains are late or a flight is delayed, yet there is no similar compensation for lousy internet services which fail to deliver the speeds advertised.

Given that a decent broadband connection is viewed as the fourth utility by many British families, this overcharging and under-delivery is a scandal every bit as big as PPI miss-selling and the VW Exhaust emission scandal.”

Earlier this week the Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey, similarly described the current way in which broadband speeds are advertised as “misleading” and “ridiculous“. “The idea that if you can deliver to 10% of houses the broadband speeds you are advertising on a large billboard and get away with it seems to be a complete and utter joke,” said Vaizey.

Frustration over the culture of so-called “up to” speeds is of course nothing new, although it is often the nature of many networks that speeds can fluctuate due to all sorts of reasons, such as traffic management policies, long copper lines, peak time network congestion and sometimes even issues like slow home WiFi or poor home wiring that ISPs cannot control.

Funnily enough we note that some ISPs, such as Sky Broadband, have now removed the “up to” prefix in front of the broadband speeds shown on their website and now just list a single download rate of “17Mb” or “38Mb” alongside their ADSL and Fibre (FTTC / VDSL) packages, but other ISPs do still seem to use it. We also note that very few ISPs show their upload speeds, which are usually slower than the download rate and its absence can cause additional confusion for consumers.

In fairness most providers (except Virgin Media and FTTH/P, Satellite or Wireless providers) would complain that they are beholden to BTOpenreach’s national copper network and its many limitations that can impact connectivity performance, although sadly Openreach are not directly held to account by related rules and so only the ISPs suffer the main punishments for performance problems. Despite this the new campaign has suggested several changes for ISPs.

Recommendations from the Campaign

* Mandatory refunds for anyone who has been mis-sold a broadband contract.

* Consumers should have the power to leave contracts if they are found to have been misled.

* Regulators should have greater powers to step in and take “robust action” against ISPs found to be misleading customers.

Mind you Ofcom’s recent Strategic Review has already proposed that residential ISPs should introduce “automatic compensation” when things go wrong (details), such as due to a “loss or reduction of service“. However this is a feature that used to only be offered alongside business products and it could be expensive to implement, especially if the measure only hits ISPs and Openreach aren’t required to share some of the responsibility where appropriate.

Likewise Ofcom’s voluntary code already allows consumers to leave their contracts penalty free, although the rules could conceivably be tightened so that they applied more widely or were perhaps made mandatory for all providers. But generally it seems as if the regulators are already working on the very areas where the new campaign seeks improvement (easy political victory?).

UPDATE 18th April 2016

The ISPA UK (Internet Service Providers Association) has today issued its response to the new report, which warns that it is “too early to conclude on exactly what steps need to be taken“.

An ISPA Spokesperson said:

“The UK broadband market is highly competitive and informed consumers are an important part of this. Ofcom statistics show the UK benefits from some of the most competitive broadband speeds and pricing. Beyond adverts, clear information is available via ISP’s websites, high street shops and comparison websites.

Broadband speeds in the UK have continuously improved in recent years and it is important to take into account that customers’ equipment such as the type of device or wiring in the home can have an influence on speed.

Furthermore, ISPs are signed up to an independent dispute resolution service that is open to customers who are not happy with their service and the Broadband Speed Code of Practice provide consumers with further rights.

ISPs are currently working with Ofcom, the ASA and Government on reforming the way broadband is advertised. The interest in this area from this group of MPs is welcome, but it is too early to conclude on exactly what steps need to be taken.”

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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20 Responses
  1. wireless pacman says:

    In my view it would be much more effective to simply ban long contract durations. I woukd go for a max of 3 months for consumer products. That would focus the minds of the (big) ISPs and most likely put a stop to all of the silly marketing and sales gimmicks etc.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      The downside is that you’d have to pay a few pounds more per month to get the service. Elsewhere it would be harder for infrastructure providers to invest in new upgrades if they can’t be certain of a return from customers. Long contracts do have a role to play, but perhaps offering a more expensive short-contract option might help to focus minds.

    2. wirelesspacman says:

      I understand what you are saying, I just doubt that it would have the effect most people think. When you look at the ridiculous sing-up offers out there at the moment, some (large) operators are essentially getting close to net zero revenue/margin for most of the minimum contract period.

      My own view (for my v small fixed wireless ISP) has always been that there is no point in tying customers down to a contract period – if they are happy, they will stay with us, if they are not happy (eg service is not what they expected etc, for whatever reason) they I would prefer we simply parted company on as friendly terms as practical.

      Yes we do have the occasional customer who leaves us after a short time, but they are very much the minority. Most customers stay with us for at least 2 years, and we have some that have been with us pretty much since the start.

  2. FibreFred says:

    So shapps is at it again. Didn’t he learn anything from his failed campaigns in this space before?

    In fairness I can see his point but once again it’s all fuss and bluster with nothing really to focus on to fix.

    Refunds and the power to leave if mis-sold and misled. But what does that mean, how is that defined? If you sign up to an up to 24Mbps service and the estimate speed test comes in at 11Mbps and you end up getting 12Mbps in reality have you been misled?

    No not at all.

    Once again he fails to get it. Hasn’t he got anything better to do or is this what he is good at?

    1. Ignition says:

      Obviously the compensation stuff is bluster. Advertising perhaps average speeds sounds good.

      Not so hot for Openreach but good for the population as a whole.

    2. FibreFred says:

      Thing is the average may be less or more than you will get , people want to know what they can specifically get and we can get an estimate on that already.

      I’m not sure how an average really helps.

    3. Ignition says:

      Short of doing some Minority Report thing where you retina scan everyone you can’t supply a personalised estimate to people who don’t provide postcodes.

      It helps for me in that it differentiates between xDSL-based solutions and fixed rate solutions further, hopefully accelerating the obsolescence of Openreach’s VDSL deployment and encouraging deeper fibre solutions both from Openreach and alternative providers.

      Ideally it’d come alongside tightening the rules on ‘fibre optic’ advertising to eliminate anything bar FTTB and FTTP.

  3. Kits says:

    In fact the real problem is BT they use ancient copper refuse to renew lines even if they have lots of faults until it stops working altogether. The to help them not need to change the lines they adjust the estimated speed for the line number so it reflects the new slower speeds. When I first went FTTC I was getting 79Mbps now on 56Mbps put my number into Btdsl checker my lowest used yo be 50Mbps, now that I am near this figure the lowest now shows as 41.6Mbps.

    I am often told when talking to people on my phone I suddenly go very quiet they cannot hear me and ended calling again on my mobile. This has been reported many times with BT saying nothing wrong my equipment on my third phone same issue. New line to poles in last 15 years new line to home 2008 but engineer didn’t change drop wire which was in the house before we bought it or master socket. So now 2016 I get problems with using the line to talk BT Openreach say no problem. Until that outlook is changed and lines changed when faults happen you cannot be specific on speeds.

    1. Ignition says:

      In my experience Openreach have been fine about dealing with faults.

      My own line dropped from being able to achieve 100Mb downstream and 30Mb upstream if allowed to down to 64Mb downstream and 20Mb upstream, alongside an adjustment to the estimated speed. This was not a line problem.

      I am unsure about your voice issues, though.

    2. GNewton says:

      @Kits: “So now 2016 I get problems with using the line to talk BT Openreach say no problem”

      Welcome to one of the worst-rated companies in the UK 🙂

      The best way to deal with BT is to simply order a 2nd new line (new drop wire, new socket, etc), and, once installed, cancel the old line. Easier than trying to get an old line fixed, it won’t happen.

  4. Ignition says:

    The compensation thing I’ve no interest in. If suppliers were playing by the rules as they stood at that time they should have nothing to fear.

    Changing the way speeds are advertised to an average, mean or median, is something I would definitely be on board with.

  5. William says:

    More nonsense. Why should ISPs be forced to advertise ADSL2+ as “up to 20Mbs” or “up to 16Mbs” depending on the speeds their customers get – it’s the same service which is up to 24Mbs. This does not help consumers, who likely think going with the ISP who advertises “up to 20Mbs” will give them the faater service.
    In fact all you’re doing is ensuring you’re lying to 10% of your customers, those who achieve above the quoted max speed.

    Why are we pandering to people that can’t understand the concept of “up to”. It’s really not that difficult to understand.

    When an order is placed a more accurate range of predicted speeds is given, if that range isn’t achieved then sure, there should be some recourse.

    1. New_Londoner says:

      Totally agree, why dumb down when selling to adults? Some apparently have retained the attitudes of children, are too lazy to find out what they are buying, but this is their problem.

      “Up to” is a simple concept, especially when you get a speed estimate for you line before buying and the right to cancel without penalty if it isn’t met.

    2. Chris P says:

      I agree
      It’s like driving on a motorway, we all expect national speed limit but there are plenty of major motorways that have had major works with tens if miles of 50 mph limits for year after year, also if your a commuter you know there is no chance of achieving 70 at peak times even when no road works. We all understand that not everyone will get full speed and it’s mainly best effort.

    3. karl says:

      Its nothing like motorways or roads. If you have slow broadband you have it all the time not just a couple of hours per day. Also unlike the motorway or roads in general there are plenty doing more than quoted speed limits when the road is clear, regardless of rights or wrongs or law. SOmething else you can not do with broadband regardless of time.

  6. dragoneast says:

    Two of the effects of competition are you get a range of prices and terms, and suppliers bend the rules. It’s two sides of the same coin. So do you throw out the baby with the bathwater? If you are an MP, yes, apparently. Grown ups, as other posters have pointed out, deal with it.

  7. FibreFred says:

    I like how he describes it as a scandal. Don’t MP’s have enough in house scandals to deal with first?

    1. wirelesspacman says:

      That’s why they need as many “external” scandals as they can find – to try and deflect the brown smelly stuff! 🙂

  8. Al says:

    I wonder if MP’s also think it’s a scandel that around 10% of the UK lacks competition because they live on non-LLU exchanges.

  9. Eccles says:

    How would this work for the sale of BT Wholesale FTTC, where an ISP has a 12 month contract they can’t get out of but the customer can? ISP’s largely rely on the speed figures BT give them, so if those figures are nowhere near correct then BT should foot the bill should the customer wish to leave in contract because of it. As usual the smaller ISPs are completely ignored.
    People should stop comparing broadband to services such as electricity and water, which aren’t restricted by the infrastructure that the service is supplied on.

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