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UPDATE2 BBC TV Show Watchdog to Tackle Slow Broadband ISP Speeds

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016 (3:15 am) - Score 4,710
bbc_watchdog_broadband_speeds

Tonight’s episode of BBC One’s popular consumer affairs TV show, Watchdog (Episode 2 – Series 37 @ 8pm), looks set to include a segment that will focus on broadband ISP speeds and getting “value for money“.

At this stage we don’t know much about the programme, although at the end of Episode 1 the presenter said, “broadband speeds, are you getting what you’re paying for” and a later description for the episode suggested that it would include “advice on getting value for money on broadband internet.”

It’s probably worth mentioning that the Advertising Standards Authority recently bowed to Government pressure and announced that they would examine whether the broadband speed claims made by ISPs are fair (here). At present ISPs must promote a headline speed that is achievable by 10% of their customers (i.e. the fastest 10%), although there are calls for this % to be lifted to 50% or higher (i.e. closer to an average speed).

However if the programme chooses to focus more on the “value for money” side of the fence then we hope that they will adopt a wider view, since broadband isn’t like Gas, Water or Electricity where what you receive stays the same irrespective of supplier. Taking the cheapest broadband service can often result in slower speeds, a weak router and or poor customer support.

Hopefully it will also highlight that for most premises a faster connection is often available (“superfast broadband” [24Mbps+] networks cover about 91% of UK premises and should rise to around 98% by the end of 2019), yet many people might not be aware that they can receive this or prefer to remain on an older ADSL / pure copper based broadband line that will struggle to keep up.

Of course there are exceptions, such as where some areas are officially classified as being able to receive a “superfast” connection and yet locals may suffer something far worse, which can be caused by all sorts of short or longer-term issues (e.g. poor home wiring, a full street cabinet, slow WiFi etc.).

All of this remains especially problematic for rural areas, many of which are still waiting for faster connectivity to arrive.

UPDATE 6am:

The show has revealed a few more details about tonight’s episode, which will claim that 90% of British people aren’t getting the broadband speeds that were promoted by their ISP. However it’s not clear if this is a reference to the headline speed or the speed estimate that is given by most ISPs during the customer’s order process, which is a key distinction.

Apparently the figure stemmed from a short one week survey, which asked respondents to test their broadband speed online and apparently found that most families weren’t receiving the top advertised speeds.

However a second survey of around 2,000 British Adults revealed that roughly a third had complained to their ISP about slow broadband speeds, but only one in ten of those that did complain saw an improvement in their connection performance (sometimes changing ISPs won’t make much of a difference either if it’s on Openreach’s open access network).

Elsewhere 49% noted that their broadband connection sometimes completely disconnected itself, although this sort of issue could also be caused by a router or other local device problem rather than a fault with the ISP or broadband line. We understand that the show will touch on this too and may offer a few tips to help people stay connected, such as changing router placement.

UPDATE 8:30pm

The final programme appeared to include a few classic mistakes, such as incorrectly stating that “most” of the UK could now access a “fibre optic” broadband line if they wanted. Just to drum this point home they even showed a fibre optic cable against a copper one.

Of course what they really meant by fibre optic is FTTC, which can still include a fair run of copper cable between the street cabinet and homes. Sadly FTTC is still subject to a loss of speed over distance and issues with poor home wiring etc.

On top of that they seemed to overlook the other ways of getting broadband, such as the hybrid fibre coax mix from Virgin Media, as well as wireless, satellite and mobile broadband.

Elsewhere there was quite a lot of focus on headline speeds and very little mention of the personalised speed estimates that most ISPs supply as part of the order process.

However it’s still good to see Watchdog taking on these issues, despite the mistakes.

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36 Responses
  1. This is going to be depressing. People need to understand what they are buying. I suspect that many still do not.

    • Avatar dragoneast

      Agree; but I fear so many of us are so far out of our tiny little minds that we would not recognise reality if it came up and hit us in the face.

    • The ‘personalised estimate’ is the one that people should be comparing with, since this stands a chance of being close to the actual experience.

      Adverts that mention speed are always going to be wrong, even if you have a fixed speed connection tech like DOCSIS,FTTH since throughput i.e. what people actually see is dependent on so many different factors.

      Will watch and try not to through a cat at the TV

    • I’ve lost a few cats that way, although modern TV’s are so thin that most tend to bounce right off.

    • Avatar DTMark

      ADSL2+ “up to 20Meg”

      = a connection that is capable of delivering 20Meg and which will do some, or preferably all of the time.

      What else could it be? What’s the point in changing supplier when they’re all offering the same thing, “up to 20Meg”?

      Having only delivered on average about 30% of that to most people, it’s not surprising that they’re cynical about ordering an “up to 80Meg” connection which in most cases, similarly, is never going to achieve anything like that.

      Yes, the customer seeking cheap prices is partly to blame, but I’d argue that the industry started this.

      FTTP = Fibre.
      BT Infinity = Fibre.

      There’s no difference, is there – they’re both fibre.

      Why should the customer have to “understand”?

      I haven’t looked, but I’d bet that AAISP differentiates “fibre” in its product descriptions in a way that other ISPs do not.

      But then AAISP isn’t pitched at the average user.

      The “mugs” are Virgin Media who, for some reason, seek to actually deliver the headline speed at least some of the time. They’re the only ones who have a network that can do that (“sync” at the headline rate for everyone).

      Over the years, they might as well have only delivered a fraction of their speeds, it’s only “up to” anyway.

      But as this becomes more important to people a differentiator becomes more evident.

    • Avatar Chris P

      @DTMark,
      what you fail to comprehend is that even if your line supported the full bandwidth you will only get the 20mbs if the sending system and infrastructure in between you and it can support that full 20mbs.

      for example if i have a popular service connected to the internet at 100 mb/s with 100 concurrent users all accessing a 100mb file at the same time, if all the BB lines are 8mb and above the chances are non of them will download that file at greater than 2mbs.

      the point is the speed at which you access or download from the net is not just your access speed, your ISP’s contention plays a huge part (cheaper isp or vm = more contention & slower speed especially at peak times) as does the remote sites infrastructure, access speeds, location & ISP.

      so even if your line rate is capable of supporting x speed doesn’t mean you can access everything on the net at that speed.

    • Avatar DTMark

      Given that I run several dedicated servers, I am aware of this 😉

      Seemingly the default port speed is still 100Mbps for most with 1 1Gbps port speed attracting a premium price.

      I hadn’t even got that far though. Were I to order ADSL up to 17 Meg or whatever it’s shown as these days, I’d never see more than about 2Mbps downstream anyway as the line is of dreadful quality and 3.7km long. Maybe 3Mbps on a very good day.

      In the Watchdog video the only user that was shown to get the full ‘headline’ speed (or about 1Mbps below it) was the one with a Virgin Media connection – I say that since AFAIK it’s the only one with a 100Mbps speed tier.

      For the other people they showed, who were appalled at the gap between the headline and actual attained speeds, the most obvious thing to check is if Virgin Media is available and migrate over to that and away from a BT based connection. Not muck about upgrading software on computers as they did.

      The most shocking thing and piece of factual evidence on the programme was that 1 in 3 had complained about their broadband speeds. That’s a huge number.

  2. Avatar TWKND

    Our speed drops from 25Mbps to sub 1Mbps in the evening. Will the ISO do anything? Of course not!

  3. Avatar mike

    Watchdog should be shaming VirginMedia. When your area is congested, it’s REALLY BAD. I wrote to them when I was paying for 200Mbps but receiving 2 or 3Mbps. I did half their research for them, with relevant links on the community forums where people had been given fault numbers (an acknowledgement by VM that the service is effectively broken). I asked them to investigate why Virgin take up to two years to fix these faults, and why they’re allowed to sell broadband in areas they know can’t deliver close to advertised speeds.

  4. Hi Mark, twice now I’ve read a suggestion on your blog that going with a cheaper option might result in lower speeds. Can you back that up? Why do you think this is the case? It’s not my experience.

    • Call it economics and experience from working in the industry for 17 years. Good customer support and avoiding the urge to oversubscribe your network capacity requires an ISP that is willing to invest a bit more back into its service.

      Not to mention that one of the reasons why it’s so difficult to roll-out FTTP nationally today is because the major ISPs are chasing the bottom with their aggressively competitive prices. A higher price delivers more money for investment, which would make the model for rolling out FTTP, or any superior form of connectivity, easier to justify. But consumers are so use to paying a pittance that this now makes for a tougher sell.

      It’s no coincidence that most of the lowest rated providers also tend to be among the cheapest. Plus I didn’t just say “slower speeds”, I also mentioned that it can also be reflected via a weak router and or poor customer support.

      Experiences do of course vary and so does local connectivity, but overall what we’ve seen is that cheap services things usually equate to a lower quality. This does not reflect a singular experience, but rather feedback from consumers across the UK over the past 17 years. It’s best to view this as a higher degree of risk rather than an absolute due to the complexity of networks.

  5. Avatar dragoneast

    Consumer choice is the right to choose to learn the hard way. Or not at all.

    The benefit of the internet is that there is more information than ever available. The hard bit is using it effectively. Where most of us, most of the time, are just too darned lazy. And consequently have no-one to blame but ourselves. The hardest thing to accept, of all.

    Lazy people always blame everyone but themselves. Life’s achievers learn how to change things, or learn to live with and make the most of it. The trouble is it’s easy to preach hate, but you only learn by your own efforts.

  6. Avatar fastman

    saw watchdog — not impressed generally not well informed and very misleading – the house with 17 meg — no check to see that a change of provider could have taken them to FTTC speed in any of the watchdog families they looked at — just make better use of your 17 by fiddling at home and updating software

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      Not impressed at all personally. Eg can “only” get broadband over twisted pair of fibre – no mention of cable, fixed wireless or even using 4G at home. Says fibre can get you up to 300 Mbps (clearly only been speaking to BT then!!). Then goes on to imply that all of the “fibre” work is to roll out FTTH, with no mention at all of FTTC (even though they do mention FTTC-based speeds).

      Goes on and on about the “headline” up to speed and if you are getting it – since if not it is clearly a national scandal. No talk about why everyone “needs” the headline speed, when most homes won’t know what to do with it etc

      Talks about the “poor Internet” in different rooms in the house, clearly implying that it is the service provider’s fault responsibility and not the home owner once you get past the router.

      Shoddy, shoddy, shoddy.

    • Avatar dragoneast

      Come on. TV has to compete with social media. What has accuracy got to do with it? It’s pretty boys (and girls) having a laugh! Just don’t upset the politicians (or Mr. Murdoch).

    • Avatar wirelesspacman

      lol! 🙂

    • Avatar Gadget

      You would have thought that even if Watchdog didn’t want to give a “right to reply/comment” to the ISPs they could at least have got something for the experts like Mark J or Andrew F – its not like they haven’t been quoted by the BBC before (certainly Andrew has to my certain knowledge).

  7. Avatar Col

    Love Watchdog but was disappointed with their broadband story.
    The old Copper wire in one hand and super fibre in the other.

    Copper wire,no matter what you think, is here to stay.
    Should it not be refered to as ‘superfast copper’

  8. Avatar KENNETH SIDAWAY

    Really strange thing happened when I originally tried signing up with Virgin a few years ago. The shop I went in to was in the city centre, the assistant had to apologise for not being able to process my order as they were on BT copper cable! and it was not working he had to do the process manually! The whole of the city centre was and still is like that not a sign of fibre optic. My Virgin media service is on fibre optic and I receive an up to 50Mbps. What most people do not realise is that “up to” includes the figure zero! and that is the get out clause. Shiny Sheff.

    • Avatar Chris P

      @Kenneth
      This is the problem that the asa helped propagate by not slapping virgin media down when they had the chance.
      Your virgin media connection is not fibre optic. You have a copper coax cable linking your virgin media modem to the virgin media network. It is most definately not fibre. .

    • Some Virgin Media connections are now glass into the home, so situation is getting more confused in time.

    • Avatar GNewton

      Kenneth is most likely on a copper coax line, not a fibre optic line.

      However, other than that, VMs coax copper lines are superior to the VDSL copper lines from BT.

  9. Avatar Margaret

    Re speed test results using the site Watchdog suggests and the speedtest sites my IPS [Talk Talk] uses.Download of 7mbps on the former and 15mbps with the Talk Talk tester.A successful call to their helpline ended with a diagnosis that my router was too old and a new one, for free, would arrive tomorrow. I live in a residential building where 17mbps is the fastest speed available at the postcode I have.
    I’d be curious to hear if other viewers have used two different Speed Test sites and also found the results differ so much although they were conducted within a minute or two of each other.

    • Without knowing exactly which other tester you used difficult to comment. Some providers speedtests are not actually a speed test but a look up of what you can theoretically get, if you can share a link to the TalkTalk tester that would help.

      Also try the speed test on this site itself http://www.ispreview.co.uk/speed/ and post the share results URL when its finished, as the shape of the graphs can show some interesting information.

  10. Avatar Margaret

    Here is the link which Talk Talk help person asked me to go to…..https://www.ookla.com/
    On opening ookla site I then selected ‘speedtest’ in top options bar.
    This took me to http://www.speedtest.net/ and I clicked begin test [on the open laptop]. This was all per Talk Talk’s help person – not something I’d chosen at random.

    • Okay so Ookla is a throughput test, it may be that the difference is down to where the files used in the testing are located.

      its worth repeating the BBC, Ookla and http://www.ispreview.co.uk/speed/ tests, as just like the road network conditions can vary. The graphs on the last test are most useful, as it may be your speed is varying between 7 and 15 Mbps so depending on how a test was written you can get different results.

  11. Avatar Martin

    Hi Mark, I see with sadness that the TV churn out these misleading programmes too often. If only they would talk to you. Then they get churned out by the red tops and the myths continue. Then the politicians are misinformed and the rules are made to support a false story. I remember the myth a few years ago when watchdog said you could save £50 a year turning off your TV. This was based on 405-line valve sets. the huge monsters we had in the corner. Yet they showed a flat screen and its led standby light. Mine tested at less than a watt a week. Why wont the media tell the truth?

    • Avatar Chris P

      i echo that Martin,
      i get really annoyed when people tell me nonsense like that.
      A friend who worked at WWF was adamant my kit on standby was destroying the planet. She wouldn’t accept that the flat screen TV standby LED and more importantly, the internal switched transformer was hugely more power efficient than the ones in the older machines like CRT’s or computers. No matter the evidence you provide even a power meter connected to both side by side was not sufficient enough to convince and counter the biased and false literature her charity was churning out.

      It would be great of shows had to show their working and rectify false claims.

    • Avatar mike

      Your individual TV may not be killing the planet, but the cumulative effect of hundreds of millions of them is not insignificant

  12. Avatar Dumb argument

    There were a couple of interesting things…

    Surely the poor guy that had taken upto 76Mbps FTTC but only getting 9.7Mbps has a fault, or are ISPs still allowed to sell something deemed “superfast” and not even reach the soon to be mandated 10Mbps USO.

    Also anyone know what upto 100Mb service the guy in leeds likely had which achieved an impressive 97.9Mbps?

    • On the 76 Mbps, if really on a up to 76 Mbps service and connection speed is sub 38 Mbps, then most providers will allow a downgrade and price drop, especially those signed up to the Ofcom code of practice on speeds.

      Likely there was a fault, maybe wiring/wireless, or they say the up to 76 Mbps advert and signed up and totally did not see the speed estimate given at the point of sale.

      Show should have really delved to find out what point of sale estimate people were given, in addition to the shiny advert.

    • Avatar Data Analysis

      “On the 76 Mbps, if really on a up to 76 Mbps service and connection speed is sub 38 Mbps, then most providers will allow a downgrade and price drop”

      How low does speed have to be on upto 38Mb for a price drop?

  13. Avatar FibreFred

    “However it’s still good to see Watchdog taking on these issues, despite the mistakes.”

    Apart from the fact it makes it seem that things are worse than they are 🙂

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