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Survey Finds Dissatisfaction with UK Adverts for Broadband ISP Speed

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 (1:22 am) - Score 290
broadband speeds confusion

The latest survey of 816 ISPreview.co.uk readers has found that 68% are unhappy with how broadband providers advertise their headline download speeds, although respondents were split on the best approach for improving the clarity of such promotions.

At present most broadband providers promote a headline download speed that must be achievable by at least 10% of their customers (i.e. the fastest 10th percentile) and this figure is usually preceded by an “up to” qualifier, as well as an explanation of any limitations that may hamper the connection.

However, the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), which is under pressure from MPs to improve how broadband speeds are advertised, has started consulting upon four alternative methods to resolve the situation (details). Respondents were asked which of these they preferred and the largest single group (26.7%) appear to favour a median (average) speed, based on performance at peak (busy) times, but opinion is split.

Sadly the current proposals make no mention of upload speeds which, thanks to social media (Facebook etc.), P2P based software patching, cloud services and YouTube, has become increasingly important.

Are you happy with how UK ISPs advertise broadband speeds today?
No – 68%
Yes – 22.1%
Undecided – 9.8%

When you joined your ISP, did they provide you with a personal estimate of your expected speed?
Yes – 66.7%
No – 26.9%
Unsure – 6.2%

The ASA plan to improve how ISPs advertise download speeds. Which of their proposals would you pick?
Peak-time median speed – 26.7%
Range of peak-time speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users – 19.7%
Unsure – 16.5%
24-hour national median speed – 12.8%
Keep existing method – 12.3%
Range of 24-hour national speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users – 11.7%

Most people who sign-up to a big broadband ISP today should receive a personal estimate of their expected speed, which is part of Ofcom’s separate voluntary code of practice and makes the question of advertised (headline) performance less important. However most smaller ISPs haven’t signed-up to this.

Nevertheless there’s a clear demand for more clarity and all of the ASA’s proposals have some merit, although no solution is going to be perfect. Part of the reason for that is because connection speeds can be impacted by a huge number of factors, many of which can be beyond your ISPs ability to control.

For example, performance can suffer due to slow wifi, poor quality home wiring, network congestion, traffic management, copper line distance and the performance of remote internet services. The reasons vary wildly between different network platforms and locations.

On top of that there’s some concern that the changes might discourage ISPs from accepting new customers, particularly if consumers live in areas where the Openreach network is known to be slow because it could negatively impact the provider’s advertised rates. Signs of this happening have already been seen (here). Hopefully Ofcom will keep an eye on such activity as it risks damaging consumer choice.

Ultimately this is less about the accuracy of advertisements and more about managing consumer expectations.

Meanwhile this month’s new survey asks whether the Government’s proposed 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO) for broadband is good enough? 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 is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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