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By: MarkJ - 31 August, 2010 (7:26 AM)
the gadget show uk tv fiveThe Gadget Show, a highly popular TV series that airs at 8pm on UK Channel FIVE each Monday, last night re-launched its long held campaign to have the words "up to" removed from how broadband ISP services in the UK are advertised. The show referenced Ofcom's latest broadband speed study (here), which found that ISPs who advertised "up to 8Mb" actually only delivered an average of 3.3Megabits per second (Mbps).

The Gadget Show said (from last nights TV show):

"Ofcom are recommending that ISPs become more honest about the broadband speeds that you will actually achieve, but the likelihood is that this will end up in the small print. [We want Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority] to see to it that the words 'up to' are taken out of broadband advertising because, we think, at the very least it's misleading."
[OFCOM MAY 2010 DATA] Headline/Advertised speed - (Average actual speed)
‘Up to’ 8/10Mbit/s DSL packages* (3.3Mbit/s)
‘Up to’ 20/24Mbit/s DSL packages (6.5Mbit/s)
‘Up to’ 10Mbit/s cable services (8.7Mbit/s)
‘Up to’ 20Mbit/s cable services (15.7Mbit/s)
It should be noted that the Ofcom data used by the show is ultimately only based off a relatively small sample size and failed to include any of the countries better performing smaller providers. However most people would still agree with the TV shows sentiment.

Indeed Ofcom has already launched a much stricter v2 Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds (see link in the first paragraph), although this remains voluntary and associated ISPs have been given a year to prepare themselves. The code will not prevent "up to" being used in advertising but customers should be able to leave their ISP if their lines estimated rate falls well below par.

Elsewhere the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has already launched a review into how broadband services are marketed. The review itself will examine the use and abuse of misleading broadband speed and "unlimited" claims (details here).

The problem itself is usually caused by BT's existing copper wire based telecoms infrastructure, which uses DSL ( ADSL , ADSL2+ ) technology to deliver most of its broadband connections. However DSL is greatly affected by line length (the longer the line, the slower your speed), poor home wiring, electrical interference (xmas lights, faulty AC adapters, DECT cordless phones etc.), ISP congestion and many other things.

When an ISP advertises a speed as "up to" it is most often simply posting the maximum "theoretical" rate that the underlying technology itself can achieve. Much like how some cars might advertise an average "Miles Per Gallon" (MPG) rating or "Maximum Top Speed" that you will rarely manage to achieve due to many differing factors.

However we doubt that "up to" itself will be banned anytime soon, not least because it could have repercussions that extend far beyond mere broadband advertising (i.e. the car example above). Removing "up to" might also make it more difficult to differentiate between alternative services and technologies, especially with ISPs that use several solutions, such as the newer and more reliable fibre optic products.

ISPs could conceivably have gotten away with a lot more had internet access only ever been advertised as "broadband" and without any mention of a specific speed or technology. We note that the government also uses specific speeds when talking about its 2Mbps Universal Service Commitment (USC).
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