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Broadband Segregation Risk as ISPs Shun Slower Speed ADSL Lines

Saturday, July 20th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 11,731
slow as a snail uk network connection

Ofcom is known to be aware that there are instances where big ISPs don’t sell “slow” broadband packages to customers, although related providers claim that this has nothing to do with their new speed code but are instead commercially-driven decisions (e.g. encouraging customers to take-up fibre). Sadly there are currently no obligations requiring the big ISPs to sell a service to those stuck on slower lines.

However we understand that the ASA may be interested in examining providers that advertise a service they’re not willing to offer / deliver to those within their coverage and people in this boat might thus like to drop a complaint in the watchdog’s direction.

The Alternatives

The question for those in this particular boat is, what do you do? The first port of call is of course to consider one of the markets many smaller providers (check out page 2 of our editors pick for examples) as these may be able to accept orders that the big boys would reject.

Failing that it’s worth checking to see if any alternative network providers (wireless and fibre) cover you area (see our UK ISP Listings), although you’d probably know if that was the case but some fixed wireless providers may be present without you even realising.

Outside of that a third option would be to consider a 4G or even 5G based mobile broadband connection via the networks of Three UK, Vodafone, EE or O2. All four of the primary operators have coverage checkers on their website and some will give you better speeds than others. In fact these days quite a lot of rural 4G networks actually end up being faster than fixed line ADSL and even some FTTC services.

NOTE: Both Vodafone and Three UK now do “unlimited data” plans, which could be a useful alternative to fixed lines.

At this point it’s worth noting that a new Universal Service Obligation (USO) is to be introduced from March 2020 (full USO details), which will be delivered by KCOM (Hull only) and BT (rest of the UK). The USO is NOT an automatic upgrade but it does give people the “legal right” to “request” a 10Mbps+ download (1Mbps upload) connection from a supporting ISP.

A small part of the USO seems likely to be delivered via fixed line FTTC or FTTP technology, although it looks like BT intends to deliver the bulk of this by harnessing their EE powered 4G mobile network (similar to what we said above and this may thus already exist for you as an option today).

The last option on this list is the possibility of a Satellite connection, although at present these tend to suffer from slow latency times, variable speeds (especially at peak times) and meagre usage allowances. As such there may be some merit in holding off until the new generation of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) based broadband Satellite services go live between 2020 and 2021 from SpaceX, OneWeb and Amazon etc.

Initial testing (here) suggests that LEO networks could well put right many of the performance problems that have plagued existing GSO satellites, although it’s early days yet and at present none of the new constellations have reached the commercial launch phase.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that those stuck in ADSL-only areas are slowly being tackled by on-going deployment projects. In theory the Government’s related aim to achieve “nationwide” coverage of “full fibre” (FTTP) networks by 2033 will eventually resolve the problem completely, but that remains to be seen.

We’d naturally like to hear from any other readers who have been rejected (orders) by one of the big ISPs due to slow speeds (assuming the service itself is technically available in your area).

UPDATE 22nd July 2019

The Post Office has responded to say, “we do not discriminate against anyone based on their projected speed and our coverage has not changed.”

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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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41 Responses
  1. Mike says:

    With 4G around you don’t need ADSL anymore.

    And why should ISP’s suffer due to the public voting for stupid policies?

    1. MikeP says:

      Oh dear.

      Do you have any idea how universal 4G coverage is ??

      Hint: it isn’t.

      We’re in a valley. 3.5Km EO line, with careful tweaking of a Vigor 130 get 3.5Mbps download (via a decent ISP – IDNet). Three 4G is achievable (just) with a high-gain POE router on a mast, but have no idea how reliable that would be – especially as there’s two large tourist campsites that the base covers, and many a tree along the path. Questionable whether the time & money completing that installation would be worth it.

      This is the reality of many an order.

    2. MikeP says:


      This is the reality of many a rural area.

    3. Bob says:

      Those with poor fixed line broadband options will have poor options because of commercial viability of investing. For that same reason those people will typically also have poor mobile options.

      Ridiculous comment from a city dweller no doubt.

    4. Darren Forster says:

      Assuming that 4G is ok to use instead of broadband is an extremely narrow minded approach without fully realising the problems faced with 4G are far greater than wired broadband.

      The other week I was working at Silverstone F1 and I had 4G on my phone – do you know how fast my internet was during the day? On my lunch break I couldn’t even do basic things like learn a language on DuoLingo without the system keep timing out, in the evening it was fine when everyone had gone home and I’d returned to our staff campsite, but whilst all the general public were trying to connect to the network there was no chance.

      So if you were to stick all these people on slow broadband lines onto 4G can you imagine what would happen? How many people would end up with even slower broadband than they already have.

      Where I live which is on the outskirts of Ludlow we have a limited broadband speed of about 5mbps as even though our exchange is on fibre we are apparently too far from the exchange (the exchange is about 2 miles away). I also have 4G on the phone too which you’d think would be much faster, but you try adding a couple of devices on to that and suddenly it gets real slow, really quickly – and a lot slower than just using the 5mbps connection, not to mention the amount of times it drops out.

      In addition to this there is restrictions on 4G too – according to our usage we use about 200Gb a month of data – now should we try and match that on 4G? Which mobile network do you know could offer 200Gb of data for the same price as a landline phone? GiffGaff have unlimited for £25 a month, however once you exceed 20Gb it then restricts the speed to a slower speed and stops tethering – so after 20Gb I’d be restricted to about 2mbps and just browsing on the phone – what good would that be? Especially as 20Gb is about the size of just one Xbox One game download – so with games pass I’d be limited to just one game a month if I tried to use 4G!

    5. Mike says:

      Which provider were you using?

    6. TomD says:

      4G is just about an option in the case mentioned here – but the signal is unreliable as well as weak. All the local masts are along the motorway half a mile away so I wonder if the 4G load can fluctuate significantly depending on the amount (and speed) of traffic?
      Or does traffic use of 4G actually have a minimal impact on service?

    7. Mike says:

      Never had any issues when using an external antenna mounted in right place.

      I have heard rumours that masts reduce tx power under heavy loads to drop users.

  2. Welcome to Rural Ethnic Cleansing says:

    I believe this is basically how Ethnic Cleansing works, only killing rural ethnic broadband instead of people. Supported and encouraged by Ofcom and our government.

    @Mike: I get 8Mbit on 4G with an external antenna, which is much faster and cheaper than my adsl, it is also symmetrical. However 4G (where I am – rural) is terrible for working on and worse for gaming on. Even though the latency is around the same as the ADSL, there are frequent and unpredictable timeouts and latency spikes for no tracable reason. This leads to drop outs and disconnections on VPN connections, VOIP calls, meeting presentations, remote desktop sharing, and multiplayer games. It is great for everything else though – surfing the internet, watching online video, downloading the games/their updates. The ADSL although it is much slower has a reliable connection.

    1. CarlT says:

      Or, as with many other utilities, it’s way more expensive to provide the services to rural areas over urban ones and the people providing the infrastructure can’t charge more for it in those areas than others so the business case is poor. That combined with regulation causes things like this to happen.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      But many of those that provide a service in rural areas do charge more – many of the rural exchanges are Market A, where the costs are significantly higher. And those that do provide a service are often the smaller ISPs that charge more in the first place, even without the additional Market A surcharge.

  3. Mr Neutron says:

    It’s not just outside the capital where broadband speeds are poor – in Richmond, Surrey (where BT’s exchange is located) speeds are reasonable but a couple of miles closer to London in Kew they are appallingly slow. BT’s ‘solution’ to this problem is just to ‘upsell’ people in Kew to fibre (FTC).

    And let’s not forget that BT still has some aluminium line plant which is higher resistance than copper and is the kiss of death to ADSL.

  4. Dominic Davis-Foster says:

    I have long thought that Ofcom exists solely to further the interests of ISPs and not to protect the interests of customers. Seems to be the same here

    1. Joe says:

      I can hear the ISPs laughing/crying over that suggestion. Ofcom has made life for ISPs harder by irrational and dysfunctional regulation.

      Hardly a shock if you punish ISPs for taking on the slowest and most unreliable lines that they think its a rational biz decision to stop providing such lines.

  5. John Holmes says:

    When I used ADSL the BT speed indicator said 2mb, I actually got 8mb as long as there were no faults on the line. Trying to get those Muppets at BT to look at the line when the 8mb became 6mb was hard until I started to keep graphs and then could prove 8mb. As It is I now use 4g and I am now BT free, worst company I have ever dealt with starting with when they install DACS on my line with no warning, it took 18 months for them to admit they had done it.

  6. NE555 says:

    > BT’s ‘solution’ to this problem is just to ‘upsell’ people in Kew to fibre (FTC).

    What – you mean the solution to having a slow service is to provide them a fast, reliable service? How terrible!

    Of course ADSL will be bad if you are miles from the exchange where the equipment is located. The whole point of FTTC is to put the equipment closer to the end user. As for “upsell”, the cost difference these days is only a couple of quid a month.

    ISPs are shunning ADSL because it’s becoming a marginal product with fewer and fewer people opting for it, much as dialup was before it, but this is a good thing. ISPs selling ADSL on top of MPF/WLR are the major stumbling block to retiring the PSTN and ultimately the entire copper network. That problem solves itself if both customers and ISPs stop using ADSL. This does of course require realistic alternatives like FTTC and FTTP to be available to everyone.

  7. Gregory says:

    We are going from the ridiculous to the sublime at the moment we get 1.1mb one year we had 5 openreach enngineers out to us in the end I e-mailed the openreach CEO that gave prompt action the annoying thing is that our fibre cabinet is over 5km away 34 years ago I saw the fibre cable being installed 1km away, we are now getting soon a 1gbps fttp connection perhaps my talks with openreach helped

    1. Joe says:

      34 yrs ago! Wow They must have built that fibre cab with the tech they found from the saucer at Roswell.

  8. MikeP says:

    This is (partly) the result of micro-managed regulation as you note with the Ofcom speed definition. Or, maybe, regulating what’s easy to regulate rather than what should be regulated.

    We see the same with the energy price cap. Its effect on the wholesale market has removed all but a couple of no-standing-charge retail tariffs, pushing up costs for very low users.

    Both effects were predicted by knowledgeable suppliers in their markets. And ignored by the regulators.

  9. Meadmodj says:

    Ofcom should ensure there is more awareness of the alternatives and the forthcoming USO. 4G could resolve issues for the majority of cases. Having now experimented with 4G Routers in the loft, external aerials and externally mounted PoE powered 4G Routers it is a sound solution for those within outdoor 4G areas.

    However they need to get the mobile operators coverage maps (and their own) to be more accurate and specific. I have just returned from a few days in Dorset Perbeck coast staying on a remote camping site only 6 miles from Weymouth. The coverage map inferred that there would be signal for O2, THREE and EE, but there wasn’t. Only EE could provide 4G data dropping to 3G intermittently and THREE could not even provide any service at certain times of the day.

    1. Meadmodj says:


    2. Joe says:

      Prob find the coverage was there with an aerial. Its often just that sensitive.

    3. Meadmodj says:

      Tried two different routers with paddle ariels in and out of van in middle of field. Didn’t take omni aerial with me.

    4. AnotherTim says:

      The big problem with 4G (if you can get a signal) is that the achievable bandwidth drops quite noticeably as more people use it. I use to get a usable 4G connection, but as more neighbours have dropped ADSL for 4G (partly at my suggestion) the achievable rate has dropped by half on average (with Three on Band 20 with 5MHz channel).

  10. Jonny says:

    I think your interpretation of what TalkTalk said might be slightly off – to me it reads like if your ADSL speed estimate is below 6Mbps but they can offer you FTTC then they won’t let you order ADSL. If no FTTC is available they won’t stop you ordering FTTC.

  11. Brian Heslop says:

    I found when I was doing the rounds at end of contract, TalkTalk wouldn’t offer service. The ADSL checker only gives a extremely pessimistic up to 1Mbps, even though it has recorded a rate of 5.05Mbps, which is quite good for the 4km from the exchange.
    With this sort of thing happening, it would be very beneficial if speed estimates were more accurate.

    1. John Holmes says:

      These figures are from BT wholesale who will end up doing the work if they are not achieved. So no incentive for them to use actual figures. I got 8mb on ADSL, 10mb on ADSL2 but the stated max speed was 2mb. I had to collect data by ADSL graphs generated by DSLstatus, once I had these as soon as an ISP support said 6mb was acceptable I could refute the statement and get an engineer to check the line. I am now BT free, old number is transferred to VOIP and using Three 4g for 50mb downloads, 40m/s ping, happy days.

    2. AnotherTim says:

      In my area TalkTalk won’t even provide a phone line, let alone any type of broadband. TalkTalk “For Everyone” – I don;t think so!

  12. StillinDialUpTImesHereGLORIOUSENGLAND says:

    Get talktalk gfast package 150mbps for £28 per month. It’s a bit faster than dial up nowadays :)).

  13. Jigsy says:

    I’m on TalkTalk and get 1 Mbps…

    …and there’s virtually nothing I can do about it.

  14. Burble says:

    I’m with TalkTalk, wonder if they would have me if a new customer, ADSL 1.3, FTTC 4, and they can’t at present give me FTTP even though it’s on our pole.

  15. Dan K says:

    I live in the sticks. I had broadband of about 1mbps,which was good for my area. After I moved, my Internet was really dodgy if it approached 6mbps. I, like many others, had a lot of trouble with ADSL and phone on the copper lines. In my area, most of the lines have battery contact issues. It got to the point where BT had switched me onto the last cable, but it still hadn’t fixed anything.

    I’d been keeping an eye on the fttp roll out. Just as it looked like I should get it within about a month, it would be pushed back at least three months. Eventually I got it. I now get over 70mbps and could have higher if I needed it and was willing to pay. The speed is nice. It’s also rock solid, reliability wise. I am very fortunate.

    My mum lives just down the road and when hers works, it’s around 500kbps. I have a friend who lives locally who also only gets about the same. BT say they are too far from the exchange. But that doesn’t make any sense with fibre. Especially as a mile or so away there is fttp. My girlfriend’s mum lives near the town and she can’t get any kind of fibre either. Hers is not particularly reliable.

    Unfortunately, it’s as if BT stopped repairing the copper lines properly several years ago. It turned out that fibre is even cheaper to maintain that they’d expected. They knew it would be at least a but cheaper. If BT won’t roperly maintain the copper lines, then people in rural areas can’t even have ADSL. I hope they continue to roll out fttp, without leaving people out.

    1. Guy Cashmore says:

      Similar here in West Devon, the copper infrastructure is getting less and less maintenance from BT/OR, for those still using it reliability is awful, many have switched to 4G now unlimited data is available, with less and less users, its a vicious downward spiral for copper around here.

      The only real question is when will the penny drop with BT/OR? The current infrastructure has no future at all, they either need to upgrade it or abandon it, no sane business can continue to subsidise huge parts of a network with almost no customers.

  16. Occasionally Factual says:

    Why would an ISP bother with ADSL lines now when the profit margin is approaching zero. I’ve seen too many complaints on other forums that combined line rental and ADSL for under £16 is much too expensive. So the complainers ring up and try for a better deal which costs the ISP money just for the phone call. You cannot make a viable business at this pricing level.

    1. Adam says:

      I have not seen 1 person complain regarding broadband prices under £20.00 in my life.

    2. Guy Cashmore says:

      When you are only getting 1 to 2 Mbps on a good day, £16 is too expensive!

    3. Adam says:

      Oh. Guess you’re my first. Guess it does happen.

  17. Malcolm says:

    Now Broadband have been doing this for the last few years – I am with Sky (who own Now) and get about 5.5mb – Now won’t supply anyone in the area – it will be interesting to see what happens next year when the USO comes in – I can’t see the situation getting any better

  18. 125us says:

    This is a function of ISPs being ranked in tables according to the speed of their broadband. By far the easiest way to improve your ranking in that table is to decline service to customers who would reduce your mean.

  19. wont reach says:

    We (my community of 200 houses) only have access to EOL lines and we’re in South London, BT will only sign us up to a 2mb contract. Openreach have tried to extort us into using community funding to fix the issue with their ailing network. I’ve tried contacting my MP (who took it up with the Minister for digital and creative industries), the Mayors digital office and Ofcom but just get the same copy/paste answers.

    The USO rule changes are a joke and a slap in the face to the people being excluded from the fibre networks in this way. To sum up the USO rules – you can request faster then 11mb broadband, but if it costs more then £3400 Openreach don’t have to bother doing a thing. Who wrote these rules and why are they designed to protect OR and not consumers? It removes OFCOMs ability to act.

    4G is not an option in London as it is contention based – meaning it slows to a crawl at the times you actually need it, assuming you can access it at all. Imagine trying to run your households internet by tethering to your phone. My only option is a 4G router and it’s awful most of of the time but at least I don’t have to pay line rental to these crooks.

    There are technical solutions to EOL lines that OR are not talking about – the USO rules need to be changed to specifically not allow OR to extort money out of people they ignored while updating the exchanges. Without these changes they will continue to behave in a monopolistic and cartel like fashion.

    1. Alec Broughton says:

      Similar situation here, all classic ADSL, with no option for alternatives. openReach say there are no planned upgrades on the roadmap, or in other words they are waiting for the USO so they don’t need to invest.

      I queried this with Ofcom recently based on similar concerns for my community. Ofcom told me that BT must assume 80% take up of ALL premises served by the exchange (who would benefit from the USO upgrade). the cost is then split across all of those premises. IF that number falls over £3,400 per property then it’s above the threshold and the premises MAY be asked to contribute. In the USO T&C’s Ofcom are allowing an overspend of 100% (up to £6,800) per property in real term costs, although that’s after a qualifying quote has been provided. The processed is triggered on the first request submission (from March 20, 2020)

      4G in our area only provides a 5Mbit connection, which is half the USO minimum. the only options in our area is a full fibre rollout, but our exchange doesn’t even support FTTP yet (or even have 21cn for alternatives)..

      Maybe Boris promise to delivery full fibre by 2025 will kick start some magic.

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