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Matt Warman MP Attacks ISPs for Advertising Misleading Broadband Speeds

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 (8:31 pm) - Score 1,010

The Conservative MP for Boston and Skegness, Matt Warman, has accused ISPs of being “complicit in fraud” for the way they advertise broadband speeds in the United Kingdom and has called a Westminster Hall event to debate the issue at 4.30pm tomorrow. He also wants “fibre” to only mean FTTP/H ISPs.

At present the Advertising Standards Authority only requires ISPs to promote a headline speed that is achievable by at least 10% of their customers (i.e. the fastest 10%), which must also be preceded by an “up to” qualifier and a “prominent disclaimer” of any aspects that could impact the service’s performance.

However the situation began to change last year after various politicians and local authorities called upon the ASA to change their approach (here, here, here and here), which is despite the watchdog initially noting that complaints about broadband speed had fallen away significantly over the past few years.

Ed Vaizey MP said (March 2016):

“I hope that the Advertising Standards Authority will crack down on how providers advertise their speeds. At the moment, if only 10% of customers are receiving the advertised speed, in the eyes of the ASA that is supposed to be okay.

I totally accept that the ASA does a good job – it is a great example of self-regulation – but it really needs to go further on that. In my humble opinion, at least 75% of people should be getting the speeds that the broadband providers are advertising.”

Soon after that the ASA agreed to probe the issue and in November 2016 they set out a series of potential solutions (details), such as forcing providers to advertise “average speeds” or a “typical range” of speeds. At the time the ASA said they’d consult with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and report back during Spring 2017 with a draft proposal.

Since then Sky Broadband has become the first ISP to begin promoting “average speeds” alongside their broadband packages (here), although they also continue to advertise the more traditional “up to” speeds until such time as the ASA reaches a decision. However some politicians now appear to be losing their patience.

Matt Warman MP said (here):

“Consumers have come to expect that ‘Up to 8Mbps’ often means rather less – but the fact is that regulations say that just 10 per cent of users have to be able to receive that speed for the advertising to be acceptable. It’s like walking into a supermarket and choosing the best apple only to have it exchanged at the checkout for the most shrivelled. Broadband providers are complicit in this fraud on 90 per cent of consumers, but it’s the Advertising Standards Authority that needs to get a grip on it.

The good news is that that is just what is in the pipeline, but the bad news is that it’s not obvious what improvements can be made.”

Warman believes that an ISP’s advertised broadband product speeds must be available to the “majority of people who sign up for it” and he suggests that two thirds of consumers should be within 20% of the headline speed.

On top of that he also wants to ensure that “fibre broadband” style promotions are only used by true fibre optic ISPs (FTTH/P), rather than hybrid-fibre solutions that mix in quite a bit of copper cable (FTTC / VDSL2, HFC DOCSIS etc.). France already has a similar rule (here) and we discussed this topic quite a lot in our earlier article – Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up.

Kerris Bright, Chief Marketing Officer at Virgin Media, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“Outdated rules allowing broadband providers to advertise a speed only available to 10 per cent of customers need to change. The advertised speed should be available to the majority of consumers – plain and simple.

Government has been clear about the need for a majority rule and today MPs are examining the issue in Parliament – the regulator should act now.”

Whatever the ASA proposes, it will probably end up being divisive, with their own research showing that there was no single solution where everybody was in 100% agreement. It’s also worth remembering that service 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 WiFi or poor home wiring, many of which represent aspects that ISPs cannot always control.

On top of that MPs often seem to forget that nearly all fixed line broadband ISPs are required to provide each customer with a personalised estimate of their expected broadband speed before completing the order process. This goes well beyond the 10% rule and is one of the key reasons why complaints about advertised speeds have fallen.

Meanwhile Sky’s recent decision to reject orders from those on sub-2Mbps lines is perhaps an example of an unintended consequence (here). Providers that refuse those with slower lines would effectively be able to make their advertised speeds seem more attractive, although this penalises many of those in rural areas and reduces choice.

Hopefully tomorrow’s debate will also touch on other areas, such as the need to promote upload speeds. Sadly upload performance is often hidden in the small print or not even mentioned at all, which is despite it becoming increasingly important to social media and other online services.

However we don’t think it’s right to accuse ISPs of being “complicit in fraud,” more often than not they’re simply reflecting the complex reality of technologies that naturally deliver very variable broadband performance. The copper lines that many people still use today were never intended to do what we’re asking of them now.

NOTE: Whilst accusing ISPs of “fraud,” the MP might do well to consider that for several years the Government’s Broadband Delivery UK ministers and culture secretary were wondering around the country with a big “80Mbps” and “up to  80Mbps” sign (pictured, top) in order to promote their roll-out. This is of course the maximum speed of Openreach’s FTTC (VDSL2) product, which suffers the same problems with performance. Sometimes they also added the “fibre broadband” tag line underneath. Pot calling the kettle black.

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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.
Leave a Comment
17 Responses
  1. adslmax Real says:

    I agree as fibre are suppose for FTTP or FTTH.

    FTTC are to change to become FTTCTOCTTP

    FTTC mean Fibre to the cabinet
    FTTCTOCTTP mean Fibre to the cabinet to copper to the property

    1. Ben says:

      Could just call it VDSL like the rest of Europe.

    2. GNewton says:

      The ISPReview website is to be commended, because they usually use expressions like ‘“fibre broadband” (FTTC)’ rather than ‘fibre broadband’. VDSL over copper, or DOCSIS 3.x over coax cable, is NOT fibre broadband!

  2. Chris P says:

    When my car goes in for a service i have no idea how much they will charge me for extras until they’ve looked at it. Same with BB, when i enquire they tell me what to expect. If i’m switching from 1 xdsl to another the rate achieved will be fairly accurate, Virgin Media and fttp/h will also be accurate too. What i get over wifi to my BB is another matter.

  3. Kits says:

    While broadband speeds are variable the speeds can never be the same for all as distance plays a very large part in the UK broadband. While BT is not forced to remove all copper for fibre the speeds will never be right for all. Those near a cabinet will always be tops speed while the customers at the far ends will never see those speeds.

    I remember when I first got VDSL 79Mbps down as more joined it dropped thanks to crosstalk to 56Mbps so now I do not get the advertised speeds BUT that is not my ISPs fault. It is BT’s fault as the route BT took to increase our speeds still uses copper. Rather than go complete Fiber BT selected the cheaper option and still use coppper the worst medium after alluminum for broadband.

    So if the Learned person wants to make it the speed for all they need to tell BT to pull there heads out of the sand and move to Fibre 100%

    1. TheFacts says:

      ‘they need to tell BT’ – Who it the ‘they’?

    2. GNewton says:

      @TheFacts: You, amongst many! Or have you given up your campaign?

    3. Lee says:

      For many though, if Openreach had chose fibre, they’d be stuck on sub 5meg for a long, long time. Regardles of the cost, the sheer amount of work required for FTTP for everyone would take well over a decade.

  4. Cecil Ward says:

    Couldn’t agree more about the completely dishonest “fibre” for FTTC. How many non-technical users actually might think they are getting a fibre-optic line, or even worse might think that by some bizarre distortion of reality that the might actually have one right now – even though their copper line never got replaced. Do you know anyone who has actually been taken in to such an extent? How did it ever get started? Where else would marketing people be allowed to get away with it? And I also wonder how many people in authority have been successfully conned given some such folks’ love of vagueness and lack of technological and scientific literacy.

    1. DTMark says:

      I believe it started when Virgin Media began to advertise their service as fibre-optic.

      At that time, it was a genuine USP (unique selling point). The fibre was “nearer” to the home, the last part or “run” of the connection being delivered over copper. Coaxial cable.

      The cable network was designed for TV and the engineers knew that the lengths of coaxial cable had to be kept short for everyone to get the services. Hence the proliferation of VM street-level cabinets. Precisely because – even though coaxial cable is more capable than BT’s telephone cable – signal degrades over distance.

      As it is today, the copper in the VM cables is no barrier to delivering 2Gbps+ to users. Because coaxial cable is pretty decent and the runs are short. It’s a matter of provisioning, capacity planning, and how near the fibre is brought.

      BT decided to call their product “fibre”. Except that the copper performs worse, it isn’t even all copper, and the cabinets are often further away. Sometimes so far away that “fibre” won’t work.

      So VM’s network still retains a “USP”.

      If “fibre” were “fibre” then the “last run” of cable would be fibre, and there would be no need for “personal estimates” at specific locations.

      That only comes about precisely because it is not fibre. To the premises.

      So while that bit doesn’t hold VM back so much, it cripples BT’s ability to compete for speed. Even G.Fast, BT’s next “thing”, can best be thought of as an up to 100Mbps connection (the number who will get more is marginal) and VM surpassed that a fair while ago.

      Neither are “fibre”, though. This is storing up problems for the longer term and causes issues for true fibre providers right now. It would be better if they were advertised as what they are – cable and VDSL.

      “Unlimited”, “fibre” and “broadband” are pretty much meaningless in this country.

      Sent from my fibre-over-the-air connection on 4G.

  5. fastman says:

    DT Mark – Even G.Fast, BT’s next “thing”, can best be thought of as an up to 100Mbps connection (the number who will get more is marginal) — that is incorrect suggest you look at the trial results — irrelevant that virgin can do more

  6. Henry says:

    I wonder how many people now cannot order Sky Broadband on ADSL or Sky Fibre Max, even when they want to, as a result of Openreach’s conservative estimates of minimum speeds combined with Sky’s approach to guaranteed or average speeds.

    1. craski says:

      My ADSL estimate is between 0.5 and 3Mb and I tried recently for Sky ADSL and was refused. They said SKY ADSL wasnt available in my area despite Sky LLU being in my local exchange. Using phone number for a friend nearer to exchange with better speeds and they are offered to order it as per normal which suggests that they have capacity but didnt want my slow line.

    2. GNewton says:

      @Henry: As far as I know Sky does not offer fibre, except in some small trial areas. However, they have an up-to 80mbps VDSL offer.

    3. MikeW says:

      In your haste to be pedantic, did you miss the fact that @henry used a product name: “Sky Fibre Max” … which is indeed a product sold by Sky. Whatever technology they use, they do offer it.

    4. Fastman says:

      fibre broadband is sky product and sold as fibrebroadband whether Gnewton agrees with it or not

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