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Councils Criticise Misleading Ads for Broadband ISP Speeds in Rural Areas

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 (8:04 am) - Score 724
80mbps bduk "up to" broadband speed limit traffic sign

The Local Government Association, which represents around 370 councils across England and Wales, has warned that the way broadband ISPs advertise their service speeds is particularly “misleading” for consumers in rural areas. Instead they want providers’ to promote “average” speeds and to also include upload speeds into their promotions.

The question of how ISPs advertise their speeds became a hot topic again earlier this year after the former Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, and a large number of other cross party politicians all called for the current approach to be reviewed by the Advertising Standards Authority (here). Now we can add the LGA to that list.

LGA Demands for Advertised Broadband Speeds

* Switch from using “up to” to average advertised speeds.

* Upload speed should also be a key measure of performance alongside download speed and clearly advertised to consumers.

* Ofcom must monitor the performance of connections delivered under the proposed 10Mbps USO to assess whether providers are adhering to its specifications, especially during peak hours.

* The USO minimum speed should be linked to the capability of current market speeds and lock in an obligation on Government to continue to raise broadband speeds amongst the hardest to reach. It should stipulate the USO minimum download speed as a percentage of average national download speeds.

At present the existing rules, which have been in operation since 2012 (here), require that the headline speed being promoted by an ISP must be achievable by at least 10% of their customers and that all speed claims are preceded with an “up to” qualifier. On top of that most ISPs already give consumers a more accurate estimate of performance during the sign-up process.

For example, a normal ADSL2+ line can technically deliver a download speed of ‘up to’ 20-24Mbps and an upload rate of ‘up to’ 1.4Mbps, but under the ASA’s rule most of the major providers must instead advertise a download rate of ‘up to’ 17Mbps (with some small variations) and sadly most don’t even bother to show upstream performance. A few ISPs have also completely ignored the ASA’s guidance and continue to show the peak theoretical rate, while others don’t even bother to show any speed and that can also be confusing.

The above example is particularly important because most consumers in rural areas are currently still being served by old fashioned ADSL or ADSL2+ based copper lines, which suffer signal degradation over distance. As a result those in rural areas often suffer much slower speeds than their urban counterparts because they usually live further away from the local BT exchange. This is also true of many so called “fibre broadbandFTTC (VDSL) lines, albeit measured from the local cabinet rather than an exchange.

Mark Hawthorne, Chair of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said:

“Councils are working hard to ensure everyone has good quality internet access.

Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, access their bank accounts and even run their own businesses. As central and local government services increasingly become ‘digital by default’, more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds.

The headline ‘up to’ download speed, which can be advertised legally, is misleading and does not reflect the reality of broadband service received across the country.

Broadband users deserve greater honesty and openness about the download and upload speeds they are likely to receive depending on their location.”

The LGA goes on to note that one part of the problem is already being tackled by the on-going Broadband Delivery UK based roll-out of fixed line superfast broadband (24Mbps+) connections, which currently cover around 90% of the UK and should reach around 95% by 2017 and then hopefully push to 97% by around 2019. BT are playing a big part here via FTTC/P deployments.

On top of that the Government’s proposal to introduce a 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) should, assuming they pick a strong set of technologies that can deliver the full Internet experience, help to improve connectivity for those in the final 3% of homes and businesses. We touched on one possible solution – Long Reach VDSL – only yesterday (here).

Never the less broadband is still a “Best Efforts” service for ordinary consumers, where capacity is shared and service quality can often be reduced in order to fit a lower price point; this is often particularly evident at peak times where some providers suffer a noticeable loss of performance. Hence the LGA’s aforementioned demand for change.

The huge variability of most modern broadband lines, which can often suffer a detriment to performance due to a wide variety of different factors (slow wifi, poor home wiring, long copper lines etc.), ultimately means that no approach is ever going to deliver 100% accuracy of advertise speeds. Even FTTH/P ISPs can suffer problems, albeit not usually due to their physical fibre optic lines (network capacity and weak end-user hardware can be more of an issue here).

Never the less replacing “up to” with an average rate does appear to have growing support and a recent survey conducted by ISPreview.co.uk found that the vast majority of respondents wanted to see tougher rules (here). The ASA are currently reviewing the matter and have hinted that they too may preference an average speed approach (here) and we hope they also encourage upload speeds to be shown too.

Leave a Comment
18 Responses
  1. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    But will induvidual councils criticise BT’s ‘up to 8 Mb’ FTTC claims which they have auded and abetted? Will they hell?

  2. Avatar Stephen

    Up to 0.8 MB/S might be more accurate!!!

  3. Avatar FibreFred

    How do they advertise in rural areas? Which adverts are they looking to change?

    • I believe what they mean is that ISPs advertise the same headline speeds all over, but you’re less likely to get even close to those in many rural areas due to the problem of poor infrastructure and long copper lines. But the ASA are looking to change all adverts, most likely under an average speed (not sure if they’re talking about mean or median though).

    • Avatar MikeW

      “Dear Possible Customer, Are you in a rural area? If so, please ignore this advert..”

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Hmm I don’t see how this solves anything.

      Let’s say the average UK wide for FTTC is 30Mbps (I don’t know what it is I’m sure TBB will have it but let’s say it is). Then we shave some off to come under that average so.. down to 25Mbps for FTTC UK wide

      How does that help someone in ruralshire who can’t get get 10Mbps come the time of order or even no FTTC service at all?

      Their final comment is:

      “Broadband users deserve greater honesty and openness about the download and upload speeds they are likely to receive depending on their location.”

      Well they can get that now with the checker, what you cannot get is a location adaptive “advert”

    • Avatar MikeW

      I’m not a fan of using average either. In fact, whatever averaging mechanism or percentile is chosen, the number will be wrong for everyone.

      The one saving grace of using the top speed (up to 80 for FTTC) is that it indirectly, but unequivocally, identifies which generation of technology is being used.

      The key is that whatever speed is advertised, the consumer needs a personalised estimate … and he needs to know how that compares to his current deal.

  4. Avatar Alan P

    The issue with the ‘average’ speed could result in some ISP’s refusing to provide service below a certain level, for example 2 Mbits, as it would reduce their advertisable speed average. Obviously an unlikely scenario but I could see some companies doing it so they can advertise ’10 Meg’ instead of ‘6 Meg’.

  5. Avatar Chris P

    so advertising limited unlimited connections is fine, but upto X Mb is not?
    makes no sense what so ever, i’m fairly sure that people know their connection speed is dependent on their line characteristics and that they will be told the speed they can achieve at the time of ordering. a new mechanism will just confuse everyone.

  6. Avatar sentup.custard

    There’s no perfect solution to the “problem” (?) but using the “average” speed is worse than using “up to” in my opinion, because one ISP can appear to provide a faster service than another, due to better customer location, when they are actually providing the same thing.

    I am obviously thick, though and, being a bit of an old fogey, haven’t caught up with the modern definition of “up to”. If I had a brain, I would have reported the people I bought a shirt from last week to the ASA, because their advert said “Summer Sale – up to 60% off” and the particular one I bought was only 50% off.
    The advert should have said “Summer Sale – average 53.17% off”!

    • Avatar FibreFred


      It’s right tho, another perfect example of up to in our daily lives that no-one seems to have an issue with.

      If you are going to fix something fix it, this won’t fix anything at all, waste of time effort and money.

      We already have a mechanism for estimating what speed you’ll get.

      If anything, just drop the speed and go with the fast broadband, although I’m not a fan of that either really.

    • Avatar Gadget

      Good point above – just wonder how long before a tongue-firmly-in-cheek ISP advertises “Broadband – up to 10GB/s (just depends how much you want to pay)”

    • Avatar Chris P

      there are signs all over the roads and especially motorways advertising speed limits. Can drivers complain to the ASA when stuck in traffic on as they are unable to drive at the advertised speed limit?
      Same thing with BB. There are situations where it will just be constantly slow.

    • Avatar karl

      Motorway example doesnt work, unless you are saying everyone only drives at 70MPH and never exceeds that speed…. Thus affecting the “average” motorway speed.

  7. Avatar dragoneast

    Does anybody actually take notice of anything in an ad (except, that is, when they want to complain and are desperately looking for something to back it up)?

    The bit in brackets is the definition of a politician, by the way.

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