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UK ISP Customers Call for End to Misleading Broadband Speeds

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016 (1:37 am) - Score 667
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Consumers are still frustrated by the way in which most broadband ISPs advertise their Internet service speeds. A new online survey of 1,267 ISPreview.co.uk readers has discovered that 80.8% think the way in which providers advertise their speeds is “misleading” and 89% want tougher rules to tackle it.

At present the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) only requires that the headline speed being promoted by an ISP is achievable by at least 10% of their customers and all speed claims must be preceded with an “up to” qualifier, including a description of any caveats that could affect connection performance.

However Ed Vaizey MP, the Government’s former Digital Economy Minister, recently called for a “crack down on how providers advertise their speeds” and he further suggested that “at least 75% of people should be getting the speeds that the broadband providers are advertising” (here).

In keeping with that the ASA has already announced a new research project, which will examine whether existing broadband speed claims are fair and this could eventually result in new guidelines.

Do you find how ISPs advertise broadband speeds to be misleading?
Yes – 80.8%
No – 19.1%

Should the advertising watchdog introduce tougher rules to tackle how speeds are promoted?
Yes – 89%
No – 10.9%

The current guidance requires that the headline “up to” speed being promoted by an ISP must be achievable by at least 10% of customers. What % would you pick?
75% – 48.3%
50% – 24.3%
Other method – 14.5%
10% (current rule) – 7.8%
25% – 4.8%

Most of our readers appear to agree with Ed Vaizey and only 10% support the current rule. Never the less we must not forget that broadband speeds can fluctuate due to all sorts of reasons, such as traffic management policies, long copper lines, slow home WiFi, poor home wiring and peak time network congestion. But some of those are beyond the ability of most ISPs to control.

Many ISPs would perhaps also point out that they are beholden to Openreach’s (BT) national copper network and its many limitations, yet Openreach are not directly held to account by related rules and so only ISPs suffer the main punishment when performance drops below par, even if it’s not always their fault. The situation is of course different for those ISPs that do control their own infrastructure, such as Virgin Media, Hyperoptic or Gigaclear etc.

Recently some reports have indicated that the ASA could adjust their policy so as to require that ISPs only advertise average speeds for their various packages and we’ll find out if that’s the case later this autumn. Meanwhile this month’s new survey asks whether or not you’re familiar with broadband upload speeds? Vote Here.

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Mark Jackson
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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14 Responses
  1. Bob2002

    These poll results are not what I would have expected for a specialist ISP site, I might have expected them on a site that attracted a higher proportion of non-technical users.

    Most experienced users are aware that ISPs have limited forecasting ability for actual connection speeds with things like xDSL, issues of line length and quality aren’t new. Basically on a new connection you’ll have to actually connect your modem if you want to find out your speed rather than rely on guesstimates, not really the fault of the average ISP(my fibre speed before installation was underestimated by 20Mb).

    If the people voting are reflecting first time users of broadband products where they genuinely won’t a have had a proper idea of what to expect and may have been disappointed then that might explain the very high dissatisfaction – results don’t seem to make much sense if experienced users are voting because they’ll realise the limits on ISPs capabilities, and then again why would this site be attracting lots of inexperienced users? I’m probably missing something …

    • As I’ve pointed out on multiple occasions, most of ISPr’s visitors come here for help with simple things and to find a new provider. The bulk of our readers are non-technical users and others may feel that simply advertising by an average speed is a better course than the 10% rule.

      However we do also attract many advanced IT users and industry reps too, proportionally more than perhaps your typical comparison site, but not enough to outweigh the bulk. But hay.. don’t listen to the person who runs the site and knows its userbase 😉 .

  2. Picking a percentile, whether 90th, 75th or 50th does not fix the basic misunderstanding that the headline speed reflects the technology available and not an individual’s line. Even making it 50th (average) speeds that means 50% pissed off at not getting the speed and 50% lied to about the maximum speed (depending on how it is described). It does not tell people what they will actually get.

    • Ignition

      Seems fair to think such a move is nothing to do with reducing any complaints and would be everything to do with pushing BT to spend more getting fibre closer to homes and businesses.

      A worthy goal but I’m not convinced this is the way to go.

  3. karl

    “Recently some reports have indicated that the ASA could adjust their policy so as to require that ISPs only advertise average speeds for their various packages and we’ll find out if that’s the case later this autumn.”

    Hopefully this turns out to be true and for once the ASA will do something worthwhile, although technically shouldn’t it be Ofcom mandating this in the first place? Either way if one useless organisation will not lets hope another will.

    • TheFacts

      Will this be average speeds of existing users, who may take slower packages than the max, or potential across the UK or etc……

    • FibreFred

      Meaningless in my eyes, an average across the UK doesn’t have any bearing on what speed you’ll get. What are we looking to improve here, you can get an estimate before you buy which is more accurate than any advert or national/regional stats

    • karl

      “Meaningless in my eyes, an average across the UK doesn’t have any bearing on what speed you’ll get.”

      Neither does the current “upto” speed so the current way its sold is also meaningless in your eyes. What would you suggest?

    • FibreFred

      “Up to” does mean something to me though, it tells me the max I could get.

      What would be the point in getting a say 30Mbps average across the UK when a line estimate tells me 40Mbps and I end up getting 50Mbps?

    • karl

      “Up to” does mean something to me though, it tells me the max I could get.

      What would be the point in getting a say 30Mbps average across the UK when a line estimate tells me 40Mbps and I end up getting 50Mbps?

      Because the Upto 80Mbps/76Mbps which FTTC is currently sold as wouldn’t be “what you could get”. So “UPTO” does not tell you what speed you will get.

      The only thing i agree on there partly with you and what my opinion is…. The ASA/Ofcom should ban all speed advertising unless the speed advertised can be provided to every customer. If it can not… Then as you touch on, there should be no speed “advertising” and only an estimate when you run a check or go to sign up.

      Speed varies so much “UPTO” is meaningless, your lucky if 10% of users can get FULL “UPTO” speed Especially when it comes to ADSL and wild 15-20Mbps claims and people stuck with not even 10% of that claim.

      At least with this system and if its based on speeds 75% of customers get you know you have a greater chance of getting whats advertised.

      Can’t imagine BT will be happy about it but they picked their choice of next gen tech to roll out so now live with it and any rules that come along and govern it.

    • FibreFred

      Up to has been around for ages, I’ve never misunderstood it

      I see the top figure like the advertised mpg of a car, dependant on a number of factors

    • karl

      I do not think misunderstanding “UPTO” is the problem. Given the survey here i would hope everyone that voted knows what “UPTO” means.

      Its what ends up being provided which is the problem. Id sooner see 75% of people get what is advertised than not personally. As i said though i can not imagine BT will be happy to have to suddenly advertise their FTTC speeds slower than they have been, Unless of course 75% of people get the full “UPTO” speed, which i doubt and which is the problem.

    • FibreFred

      I wonder if 75% of people get the mpg that car manufacturers claim?

    • karl

      That would depend on too many things to answer first being the manufacturer (some are more honest than others) we then have things like weather conditions, if the MPG figure is based on the engine installed in the car or on a dyno, how people drive, when they drive, tyre pressure and condition, other mechanicals/systems of the vehicle performing as they should be and a lot more.

      Driving a car in perfect weather conditions (assuming we are talking petrol and diesel) can give you 10%-20% more MPG on its own, never mind how much more you can get adjusting your driving style.

      Broadbands a bit different your speed should not fluctuate by 10-20% based on the weather (it may a hundred kb or so at worse but not 10-20%) and no matter how gently you press the on/go button it wont give you a higher connection rate either. Driving your MPG varies depending on road (even the surface type can make a difference) Using broadband your speed is fixed.

      Cars also do not have one set of MPG figures they cover many types of driving, again not the same as broadband.

      I can to an extent control how many MPGs i get out of my car, if i drive round with my foot to the floor and rev the thing silly off traffic lights im not going to get as many MPGs as if i drove in a less aggressive manner. I have no control what internet speed i will get though.

      I can see the point you are trying to make but it does not work.

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