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YouGov Survey Claims Broadband Got Worse During Lockdown

Friday, June 5th, 2020 (8:32 am) - Score 2,364
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A new YouGov survey of 2,301 UK adults has reported that 28% of people experienced an internet connection that was “slightly worse” than usual during the COVID-19 lockdown, while 7% said it was “much worse” and 57% saw “no change“. At the same time 73% said they were making heavier use of broadband due to home working etc.

Out of those who claim to have experienced some form of internet connectivity issue during the lockdown, some 69% said it affected general online activities, while 67% noticed an impact upon streaming (Netflix, YouTube etc.), 59% say it impacted video calls and 52% noticed an impact upon work-related tasks.

Naturally some of the mainstream media (and Which?) have immediately leapt to the assumption that broadband ISPs are to blame, although multiple studies of network performance during the height of the COVID-19 crisis showed very little impact upon service speeds (examples here, here and here). Daytime capacity demand also remained below some pre-crisis peaks (ISPs can cope with surges of many times above normal).

As usual the YouGov survey isn’t deep enough to help understand the picture they’re examining and thus it’s difficult to draw any solid conclusions from such limited feedback. We can better illustrate this problem by highlighting some of the potentially significant caveats in this kind of survey below.

Caveats of the YouGov Survey

1. It doesn’t clarify what kind of disruption was actually experienced by users, which is necessary in order to help identify a probable cause (e.g. did video streams degrade in quality or was more “buffering” experienced etc.).

2. It doesn’t show whether the problems were caused by remote servers on the internet or the broadband providers themselves. We know from evidence that ISPs generally held up well, but this doesn’t mean to say that other online services did too – problems elsewhere on the internet are not your ISPs fault. Likewise some people could have perceived the decision of major streaming providers to drop their video quality as being related to their broadband, when in fact it wasn’t.

3. It doesn’t clarify whether the “worse” connectivity was via a mobile or fixed broadband service.

4. It doesn’t identify whether or not the issues experienced were due to a customer’s local network or the internet connection itself (e.g. slow WiFi and congestion of the local home network can also affect your experience, even though this is not directly the fault of the broadband connection itself).

5. It doesn’t show whether the customers surveyed could have taken a faster package (assuming the issues were even related to broadband speeds). Many people, but not all, on slower packages live in areas where a faster service would be available if they were willing to switch or pay a bit more. Sadly those on slower lines are more likely to notice problems in a lockdown when everybody is forced to share the same limited speed.

A good example of this issue is the fact that around a third of the UK still connects via a slow copper line ADSL broadband service, which is despite so-called “superfast broadband” (30Mbps+) services now being available to more than 96% of premises. But admittedly even “superfast” lines can easily be taxed by a busy family.

Admittedly none of this is to say that broadband ISPs were somehow perfect during the crisis. Most of the biggest providers did show a slight decline in broadband speed (only around -2% to -3%) during the peak of the crisis. Some, such as Virgin Media, also happened to suffer a particularly bad outage during the period, which wasn’t directly linked back to the COVID-19 crisis but neither did the operator ever reveal much detail (some other ISPs were also impacted).

We should point out that service outages happen all the time (routing / hardware faults, power failures, street workers accidentally cutting through cables etc.) and tend to vary in both their severity and length, although most of those that occurred during this period were what we’d perceive to be fairly normal.

Olivia Bonito, YouGov’s Digital Media Research Manager, said:

“New YouGov research shows that the internet had become even more important to daily life during the coronavirus lockdown, with Britons using their household broadband connection for entertainment and to work from home.

Of course this means that many are now using their internet much more than usual but a significant proportion – a third – are experiencing worse internet performance than they did prior to the lockdown. This difficulty in accessing stable internet increases as the number of household residents rises, suggesting internet performance is being affected by increased demand.

While many might be able to cope in the short term, it could start to affect productivity if working from home becomes the ‘new normal’.”

Till Sommer, Head of Policy of the UK Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA), said:

“As indicated by the survey results there has been a significant increase in broadband usage in households during the lockdown with the UK’s workforce logging on from home and friends and family keeping in touch only virtually. However, despite this large increase in usage, the network has proved to be resilient and continues to provide vital support for the public through this difficult period.

The performance of the network itself has a vital but not exclusive impact on the user experience – in-home devices, the number of users, corporate IT set-ups and capacity constraints within online services (e.g. video-apps) can play an equally significant role.”

As ever there are different ways of interpreting the results from such a limited survey and it’s important to remember that much of the UK is still in need of an upgrade because demand is forever rising. The work to extend “gigabit-capable” broadband is therefore vital for helping the country to remain competitive but, as we’ve highlighted above, gaining access to such speeds doesn’t always solve every underlying problem.

Meanwhile we suspect that normal network outages, which might have otherwise gone unnoticed, may be felt much more keenly by people as more people find themselves working from home. In a way this is good because it will drive more complaints and that in turn should encourage further improvements.

Leave a Comment
28 Responses
  1. Avatar A_Builder says:

    Still interesting as there is a **perception** that BB services are not as good as they could be.

    Some of this is probably real as I can quite easily see a family of 4 on a 50Mb/s FTTC maxing things out, particularly upstream, with the kids online and mum and dad on video calls with DropBox etc whirring away in the background.

    This can be leveraged by the FTTP sellers to increase uptake rates as they can honestly say that what they are selling is better & future proof…..I wonder which one will run a campaign first…..?

    1. Avatar Ryan says:

      They need to supply FTTP in areas where this is needed most where there is only FTTC or ADSL instead of overbuilding in areas that already have Virgin or another supplier first.

    2. Avatar joe says:

      I think we can safely say much of that 28% don’t know what they are talking about…

    3. Avatar The Facts says:

      @Ryan – why are Virgin Media overbuilding?

    4. Avatar GNewton says:

      “why are Virgin Media overbuilding?”

      Why are BT/Openreach overbuilding?

      Seriously, back to your strange questions here?

    5. Avatar CarlT says:

      They’ll supply in areas where they think there’s the best returns and most economical deployment costs, Ryan. The exceptions being subsidies or extraordinary circumstances like getting FTTP to doctors and other key workers during a pandemic.

      They are a publicly traded company for better or worse.

    6. Avatar The Facts says:

      @GN – how do you closely follow any of my comments?

      xxx

    7. Avatar GNewton says:

      @TheFacts:

      Instead of continually posting your silly questions here, why not come to the point here? There is no need to be so sarcastic here all the time. If you disagree with Ryan, then say so, and tell us why you think he’s wrong!

      IMHO Ryan has made a reasonable statement here.

    8. Avatar Ryan says:

      My issues stems from the fact that providers are overbuilding in areas that already have the capacity and are offered a service greater than 100mbps whether this is by FTTP by OR, Virgin, alnet or spacex.

      Lots of towns have limited just ADSL or just FTTC and are crying out for a faster service but for whatever reason are being universally ignored. If a new provider came in they would literally sweep up and the takeup would be high, instead we seem to be covering the same areas again.

      I’m salty about it yes as I am excluded from any new service but I also wonder what will force the change. At the moment the only provider is BT FTTC and I cannot see this changing anytime soon – for reference I live in a town with 11K houses(will be 12 in a few years).

    9. Avatar joe says:

      GNewton. If by reasonable statement you mean against basic functioning of a market then yes. Carl’s remarks cover it and get repeated by various posters every time this comes up

    10. Avatar GNewton says:

      @joe: What CarlT is only valid to a degree. I know of many cases where BT didn’t act like a commercial business because it’s past GPO-style mentality and Can’t Do culture, it’s still reflected in e.g. Trustpilot, ISPReview and other review sites. I’d say in most cases serving densely populated small towns with fibre makes commercial sense and is relatively easy to implement. It’s more of a challenge for remote isolated rural premises.

      As regards TheFacts’ posted question: It was silly, and unhelpful. It shows that he doesn’t seem to comprehend the historic difference between e.g. BT and VM, let alone how to explain his thoughts if he disagrees with other posters.

    11. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      Still interesting as there is a **perception** that BB services are not as good as they could be.

      Its not a perception, its a reality.

    12. Avatar The Facts says:

      OR will build where their ISPs will get customers. That will drive the locations they build in.

    13. Avatar New_Londoner says:

      @Ryan
      “Lots of towns have limited just ADSL or just FTTC and are crying out for a faster service but for whatever reason are being universally ignored.”

      The reality is that there is limited demand for ultrafast services at the moment, with many people on FTTP taking services accessible on FTTC. This is a problem. It shows that that posters on this site are not typical of the general population!

      As for where companies choose to build, most are concentrating on urban areas and are content to accept lower take-up due to some over-building due to the lower build costs. Remembering that they are answerable to their shareholders for their financial performance, this is a perfectly understandable decision, especially given the low demand for ultrafast services.

    14. Avatar mike says:

      There is definitely high demand for faster services. Homes with multiple people in them are crying out for more bandwidth. Just because 80Mbps is available on FTTP and FTTC, doesn’t mean people don’t want faster services. If they chose FTTC chances are they wouldn’t get anywhere near 80Mbps, whereas on FTTP they’re pretty much guaranteed it. 80Mbps is probably fast enough for most homes, but “up to” 80Mbps very often isn’t.

    15. Avatar GNewton says:

      Some people, being so naive, believe that OR will build where there will be customers. The real world looks quite different.

    16. Avatar FibreFred says:

      Ryan,

      Take supermarkets. Do you think Tescos look at a town and see Asda is serving that town just fine, and as such move on to a town where there is no supermarket?

      Overbuilding with public money is a no no. With your own it’s fine.

  2. Avatar wirelesspacman says:

    “heavier use of broadband due to home working etc.”

    Due to Netflix bingeing more like!!

    1. Avatar Declan M says:

      Correct!

    2. Avatar Declan M says:

      Correct

  3. Avatar Riley Smiley says:

    not sure about my fixed one. but both three and vodafone turned to frozen treacle here (Bedford)

  4. Avatar mike says:

    I suspect most issues are wifi related. Most people just don’t understand that their wifi isn’t the same as their broadband and that their ISP can’t control the RF environment at anybody’s home.

    Recently I observed a discussion on Reddit where a user was furious with Virgin Media for not fixing their slow Internet. The user confirmed they got full speed on Ethernet and that they were using Eero Wifi instead of the SuperHub, but all of the blame was directed at Virgin and they were intent on switching ISPs.

    I think being a person with limited/no technical understanding must be incredibly frustrating when you have these kinds of issues.

    1. Avatar Wakka Wakka says:

      idiots shouldn’t be allowed to use the internet. It should come with a theory test and a practical test like driving a car. And if you think WiFi = internet then you should be banned from it.

      Elitist much? yes. It would make for a much better internet, without pictures of Kim Kardashian on it .. or people with blue hair on twitch streams entertaining 10 year olds with semi-deliberate nipple splips

  5. Avatar Wakkawakka says:

    pffft poor people, with their one ISP.

    Get two ISPs, put the kids and the family on that, put yourself on 500mbit VM.
    Job done. Stop being poor.

    1. Avatar Stuck on FTTC says:

      Hi Wakkawakka,
      That isn’t such a bad idea!

      The truth is, in the UK, broadband speeds are much below expectations of the average user and it’s also a complete lottery what you can get AND for what price in your area.

      FTTP is an absolute FARCE at the moment. BT have secured a deal with OpenReach where they are the only viable ISP, locking Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone etc out for the foreseeable. This is not competition this is the opposite and it is VERY destructive for FTTP takeup.

      Tell you what will be a game changer and a falcon 9 rocket up the backside for other ISP’s is when Vodafone release 200/200 SYMMETRICAL nationally for £28 inc VAT, no extra charges.

      BT and others want £50 for 330/30 which is truly appalling in comparison. I desperately want FTTP but I would never sign up for 24months at £50. That is just extortionate.

      I hope Vodafone pull the finger out and get GIGAFAST rolled out.

      I am NOT a fanboy of Vodafone by any means but these people are the ONLY ones on the side of the customer. The others are there to fleece us.

  6. Avatar Spurple says:

    Networks slowdown as utilisation approaches 100%. This utilisation could either be in network capacity or processing/forwarding capacity of the gear in play. Links have rated bandwidth, but also have limits in packets/frames per second they can handle.

    So while the headline percentage change might sound small, the impact of that small number could easily be noticeable to end users.

  7. Avatar Mel says:

    I didn’t notice any broadband issues during the lock down, but my wifi connections were slow and flaky during the early part, and trying to access an outdoor wifi camera was nigh on impossible, even changing channel didn’t help for long.

    No doubt due to clashing with all the neighbours at home using their wifi too. Too many people have multiple access points – me included.

    1. Avatar Spurple says:

      More access points aren’t necessarily a bad thing, especially modern ones, if the transmit power is now t set too high.

      Using multiple shorter range transmitters is a good way to reuse frequency and increase capacity.

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