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BBC Watchdog TV Show Slaps Virgin Media for Slow Broadband Speeds

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 26,731

The BBC’s popular consumer affairs TV show, Watchdog, will tonight (8pm BBC One) take aim at cable operator Virgin Media for “over promising and under delivering on fibre broadband speeds,” with tests highlighted by the show claiming that some people receive just 3% of the speed they were sold.

Watchdog says that Virgin Media routinely promotes broadband download speeds of up to 200Mbps (this is old information as they now offer up to 300Mbps), although they state that “customers across the country are claiming that they are unable to perform activities which should be straightforward with speeds of around 200Mbps.

Apparently “a number of customers” have told the show that when they complain to the cable operator they are told their low speeds are down to “over-utilization issues,” which the show says means that the company has signed up too many customers for broadband in particular areas, and the increased demand leads to a decline in speeds (network congestion).

Watchdog wanted to see how Virgin Media was selling packages in affected areas and so they posed as new customers. The programme claims to have found that time and time again they were sold speeds of around 200Mbps – with most conceding that “there would be only a marginal decline at peak times“. But when Watchdog tested the exact speeds at these addresses, they found that customers were at times receiving as little as 3% of the speeds promised by the operator’s staff.

Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media CEO, said:

“I, along with everybody at Virgin Media, am disappointed that, in these cases, we fell short of the high standards we set for ourselves and which our customers rightly expect of us.

We apologise for the inconvenience to these customers and have resolved the issues they raised. All of our sales agents have been re-briefed on the Company’s sales policy and we are providing additional training to ensure everyone complies with it.

Virgin Media invests more than £1 billion a year in its ultrafast network. This year we are also investing £200 million to upgrade network capacity where it’s needed to meet the growing demand for faster broadband speeds across the UK.

If you are a Virgin Media customer, please take a look at virginmedia.com for guidance on what you can do to improve the performance of your broadband and ensure that it isn’t something in your home slowing it down. If you need the support of one of our expert customer agents, please contact the Virgin Media team on 0800 952 2222.”

Sadly issues with “over-utilization” are nothing new and tend to be location specific. On top of that we also know that speed problems can be caused when Virgin Media assigns an incorrect power level to individual properties on their HFC DOCSIS cable network, which may impact performance until engineers are able to resolve it (problems with power levels can be caused by various factors, such as a network fault).

The scathing criticism is likely to be particularly damaging to the cable operator, which has long made a point out of highlighting the stability of their broadband speeds, particularly in comparison to the connections provided on Openreach’s (BT) typically slower ADSL and FTTC / VDSL2 based networks.

However, for the necessary pursuit of balance, Virgin Media still tend to do well in speedtest studies and those appear to show that any problems with poor performance are likely to affect a small group of users (“small” on a big operator is of course a relative term). The majority should still be able to receive close to the advertised rate, although the operator’s own testing with modified SamKnows routers suggests that peak time congestion can impact some of their packages (here).

Of course if you happen to be one of those who suffers from poor performance like this then being told that you’re in a small group of users doesn’t make the pain any less noticeable. Similarly Virgin Media’s inability to warn new customers in areas that are confirmed to suffer from such problems is another big worry.

In the meantime Tom told the Watchdog team that in the small number of areas where such problems occur then they will not sell products that cannot be delivered.

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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.
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32 Responses
  1. DTMark says:

    If OFCOM genuinely wanted to tackle this then it’s very easy.

    If you don’t get the speeds you’re quoted when you sign up, you’re entitled to leave.

    You get a refund of what you paid, and that amount again in compensation.

    If this occurs part-way through a contract then get 2 x the last month’s subscription charges refunded.

    Applies to all services and all technologies.

    It’s really not difficult.

    1. Dan Spurr says:

      How long realistically would it take for someone who was with provider A but switched to Useless Provider B but then wanted go switch back to provider A (since you’d have all the necessary kit already) how long would the activation take i assume it’s less than a day as it’s data input, no physical changes to the connection (unless switching from Copper/Fibre to CABLE)

      Company fails to meet speed estimates. (that should be Screenshotted or Printable at signup)

      1. Contract is Void (Leaving fee’s no-longer applicable (Looking at you Origin.))

    2. Simon says:

      I leave BT every time there is a price rise. I come back a month later and get the reward and cashback and new deal..

      Rinse and repeat.. Been doing so for years.

  2. Chris P says:

    Depends how you define speed test.

    Wouldn’t be too difficult for me to setup up an internet server and rate limit connections to it from my vm ip or just all vm Ip’s and claim poor performance on vm but fine on other providers.

    A speed test to a speed test provider isn’t indicative of performance to the greater internet, it just measures speed to the speed test provider. The ISP’s can game the tests by ensuring they prioritise that traffic and / or ensure they have bigger more direct paths to the speed test providers.

    The biggest question is how you measure connectivity speed to the internet, which is not just 1 thing but an interconnected tangle of connection contracts and transit agreements.

    1. Mike says:

      In my congested area a speed test can show as little as 2Mbps on my 200Mbps package. When it’s that bad streaming is impossible. Speed tests to my own server which I know has an idle 1Gbps connection also show around 2Mbps.

      They are not “gaming” speed tests.

    2. Dan W says:

      Sorry Chris, but you’re talking nonsense.

      Obviously, you measure the downstream/upstream that your router is receiving.

    3. Chris P says:


      From where?

      The connection rate to the isp is 1 thing, the connection to specific sites on the internet is another. Not all ISP’s have the same peering arrangements and therefore will have differing speeds across the net.

      The internet is a collection of networks and transit agreements.


      A Tier 1 network is a class above a tier 2.

  3. Stephen goodman says:

    Broadband is not what you are paying for,and slow and when you phone them they come up with excuses .and if you have a engineer out they tell you some thing else.

    1. Simon says:

      They told me that the service was broken and they had no idea when it could be fixed and they let me leave penalty free. SO some times you do get good honest people.

      They were all Engineer and Tech support -so UK based

      I don’t use companys who have out of UK staff, period.

  4. Hate Virgin says:

    We were with Virgin Media in plymouth pl4 area! It was crap – Streaming anything was a complete non starter, download times for web pages was crazy slow.

    Virgin support was just rubbish – all they ever wanted to do was a ping test to the BBC, waste of time phoning them, kept getting fobbed of with excuses and being told the network was being upgraded in the next coup[le of months, Apple had Genius, Virgin had Thicko’s

    In the end we gave up and went to Zen. Better broadband and far better support – although does cost £11 more than Virgin.

    1. Simon says:

      I only have 80/20 but it’s 80/20 24/7 I know someone who gets 190 out of 200 24/7 but that will change when the students come back.

  5. adslmax Real says:

    I do hope Virgin Media gone out of business for all I care! Hate Virgin Media never like it. Bring back Blueyonder (Telewest)

    1. Richard says:

      Yes, lets gets rid of the only other real competition in this little country. That way we can have just BT dictating when and what we get. Virgin media has been found to be doing what other ISP’s have been doing for many years. Its crap, I know, I’m a virgin media customer who has been having reduced bills from them for the best part of 18 months. Think first.

  6. Mike says:

    “We apologise for the inconvenience to these customers and have resolved the issues they raised”

    I complained to Watchdog and my issues persist.

    I’ve said it before: Virgin should be banned from selling broadband in areas they know have issues. I have an over-utilisation fault number, so when somebody tries to order they should be able to look up whether the user is in an affected area. They are knowingly advertising speeds of 200/300Mbps to people who can’t achieve anything close to that at peak times.

    1. DTMark says:

      Minimum guaranteed speeds in advertising would solve this.

      With sufficient penalties levied for failing to meet those. Provider can choose to pay the penalty or deliver the speed they sold.

      Applies to both cable and DSL based tech.

      Penalty put back into BDUK funds for further improvement.

    2. Natalie says:

      virgin media 200mbps is now advertised/quoted as 120-200mbps
      using the speedchecker they referred me to i am consistently getting only 20mbps instead
      and tat includes choosing their own servers for the testing, other servers giving 12mbps
      what a sham!
      what am i paying for?

  7. Virgin Cable Customer says:

    Virgin customers can post in a specific community support forum what issues they have on Virgin here. I suspect the CEOS office team will be monitoring to see what areas are complaining the most:


    1. Mike says:

      Ignore that. It’s nothing more than a blatant attempt to hide the extent of people’s issues. Continue posting separate threads for maximum exposure.

    2. oleg says:

      “Continue posting separate threads for maximum exposure.”

      Going to be a bit tricky for you with a connection which is supposedly terrible.

    3. mike says:

      I’m pretty sure a Virgin connection performing at 1Mbps could manage to post a few kilobytes of text to a forum

  8. mike says:

    I’m pretty sure a Virgin connection performing at 1Mbps could manage to post a few kilobytes of text to a forum

  9. ultraspeedy says:

    I’m pretty sure that example of double posting shows its more the user than the connection that is the problem.

  10. oleg says:

    Oh the irony Mike! Better proxy next time.

    1. mike says:

      What do you even mean?

    2. ultraspeedy says:

      “I’m pretty sure that example of double posting shows its more the user than the connection that is the problem.”


  11. Adam says:

    This has been going on for years. when i work at virgin media in the customer relation department this was common knowledege and this will not be a shock to any of the ceo’s. these factors. This has been the case since they first launched the 50mbps as the premium speed/package.

  12. Keith Moon says:

    I doubt these issues have been resolved. I had someone come round to tell they were working in the area to resolve these issues as if it can be fixed in a couple of weeks. This over utilisation issue has been going on for a long time, as mentioned above. I first experienced when they increased to 50mbps. It took nearly three years to fix it. When they did find ta solution they upgraded again and again making the problem worse each, I’ve since left. Absolutely useless. BT are not much better in terms of having a stable ping to play games either. Internet in the UK is diabolical.

  13. Matt says:

    When I lived in London, I paid for 200mbit and I got 200 the vast majority of the time.
    I rarely noticed any slow down or lack of service. Then three years ago I moved to Bedford and I picked a house that had access to the VM network because high speed broadband was important to me as I worked at home.

    Then the problems came. We had three months where the service would just drop out completely. There was massive packetloss at a VM core router in Luton so I complained to them and provided evidence of their network being at fault… and on every single occasion they said it must be my 3rd party router … like how does my router make one in Luton drop 20% of the traffic?? Anyway, we left them as they couldn’t supply a service… two years went by when I was on VDSL from Sky and I decided that I’d had enough of paying £30 a month for 40mbit when virgin were offering 100mbit for £32. So having been two years, we signed up again… and i’ve just cancelled it again during my cooling off period.

    The exact same problem as two years ago. Their network is oversubscribed and over utilised
    and they tell me they will upgrade in October. Meanwhile they wanted me to keep paying them the full £32 a month when my internet kept dropping out constantly or grinding to a halt due to dropped packets.

    Again, complained to VM. All possible methods. Phone/Writing/Email. I explained it was the same issue they said they were going to fix two years ago and still haven’t. They were not interested in resolving the issue at all.

    Now my next door neighbour just signed up to VM and he knows i’ve had these issues but he couldn’t resist some all in package with tv and broadband etc… so he specifically asked virgin about it and they told him it was FIXED!!!! after they told me it would be fixed in October… needless to say he has just cancelled his package as well since his broadband doesn’t work at all.

    Since they were bought by Liberty they went downhill extremely quickly. When they were Telewest they were a great company.

  14. I to am a Virgin customer and I can clearly say it has been one of the worst Media companies I have ever experienced, there service is so bad always get someone in India or sounds that way, all they do is want to do on line test’s and checks, they then tell me that there are no faults (so why am I ringing) for fun may be, I have been six months with them and it has never worked correct so I asked to cancel, but they wanted £250 cancelation fee for a service that they cannot provide, I would call this a breach of contract, it is daylight robbery plus when I got the bill they also charged me for the phone call’s telling them that there system does not work, I would never use Virgin again I have written a strong letter but I will be surprised if I see a reply.

  15. Emma says:

    I have had Virgin Media for over 15 years in one for or another (NTL before).

    My area now suffers from Utilization faults and I get 1 – 4 MBPS instead of 100. THis has been ongoing for 5 months now with a review date of Nov which will probably get pushed back again.

    I’m now only getting 10 mbps max at any time of day and everytime I ring I’m told there is no problem with the connection. I have been a loyal customer and enjoyed the service for many years, but now I think I’m being treated disgracefully.

  16. muckbucket says:

    Anyone from the legal industry able to comment on the contractual obligations of the provider and what customers can do if they’re receiving no where near the agreed service levels?

  17. Mark Jennings says:

    I had awful problems with virgin media and had to contact the CEO’s office to get it resolved . The issue as highlighted above is that during the evening time i was getting leas than 5mbps even though i had signed up for 100mbps. I could not even use BBC i player !!!!
    This issue arose just after getting it installed .

    When I called Virgin i was told it would be fixed 4 weeks later so i stayed with them only for the to be told it would take another 4 weeks . At this stage i had enough so i moved but even then their staff were awful as they wanted me to pay a penalty fee if i cancelled my TV and phone subscription even though I singed up to their services as a package .This was only resolved after once again contacting the CEO office. They make is as hard and difficult as they can

    My major issue is how can a company sign up new customers when they must know that in the area they cannot deliver the service . This to me is criminal and even now you cannot check with virgin what areas they have issues . The sales team are there to make sales and they will tell you anything to make the sale to earn their commission

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