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

Saturday, Apr 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.”

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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