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By: MarkJ - 3 March, 2011 (6:40 AM)
broadband ISP opinions ukInternet providers have given some deeply mixed reactions to yesterdays Ofcom report into UK broadband ISP speeds (read our summary), which revealed that the country's average fixed-line internet download speed had climbed by +1Mbps over the past six months of 2010 to reach a new total of 6.2Mbps.

However, the most interesting comments have come in response to Ofcom's formal recommendation that ISPs adopt a Typical Speeds Range (TSR) in their advertising. This would represent the range of speeds actually achieved by at least half of customers (around the median). Some ISPs, such as Timico UK, support this while others, such as AAISP and Entanet UK, appear to be firmly opposed.

Ofcom has also suggested banning the use of "up to" in speed promotions that are least likely to be achievable by "a material number of customers", such as for packages that promote "up to 24Mbps" ( ADSL2+ ) services, which the vast majority of customers would never even get close to.

The CTO of Business ISP Timico UK, Trefor Davies, said:

"The stock response from ISPs is that every line is different and by announcing an “up to “ speed they cover all the bases and customers are appraised of the actual expected speed of their line before they sign up.

This is an interesting one. I work for an ISP but I am also a consumer. I see no reason why ISPs should not be able to give greater prominence to typical speeds rather than the “best you can possible expect”. We should being straight and honest with our customers – not hyping things up and raising expectations that can’t be met (you can tell I’m not a marketing person here :) ).

ISPS have made some concession to the fact that if a technology (eg ADSL2+) can theoretically do 24Mbps most people are not going to get that speed. A 24Meg line is therefore often described as an “up to 20Meg” line (not universally as the Ofcom data in the table inset shows). My “up to 20Meg line only does 11Meg. It is disappointing but I understand the game. Not everybody does, though you do wonder whether most people care.

Most people do care about the quality of their experience though and in the absence of any other suitable metric typical speeds are a good enough representation of this."

The Director of AAISP UK, Adrian Kennard, countered:

"Statements like "The average broadband access download speed UK users experienced rose 5% to 6.2Mbps, but this is less than half the average headline speed they pay for, communications regulator Ofcom says." just show some serious misunderstandings.

If you are paying for an "up to 8Mb/s" line then you are getting what you are paying for if it is 500K. In fact, you are only not getting what you pay for if it is over 8Mb/s (when you are getting more than you are paying for).

There are a lot of issues that affect the apparent speed of a connection. It is not simply a matter of "how fast can I download a big file", though that is obviously an important point. As speeds get higher factors which previously did not matter, such as the software in the TCP stacks at each end, the load on the sending server, the latency on the link, and the impact of low levels of packet loss, can have more and more noticable effects. In many cases what an end user sees as "slow" can be a latency issue or a DNS problem and not a line speed issue at all.

So, in light of that, it seems odd that there is so much focus on line sync rate. It is a shame we can't use common phrases like "up to" and people understand. Perhaps by saying "not more than" people will. Who knows?

The CEO of TalkTalk UK, Dido Harding, said:

"Ofcom’s latest broadband speed report shows that Britain’s broadband is getting faster, and what’s more, it confirms that TalkTalk customers are getting faster speeds than those with BT, BT PlusNet or Sky (and of course, we’re cheaper too).

According to the Ofcom report, average download speeds across the UK increased by 5% between May and December 2010. It’s good news for everyone who loves going on line but, while it’s great to be doing well in charts based on averages, we’re even more interested in helping every customer know exactly what speed they’re getting and how it can be improved.

That’s why we’re today launching our new Speed Checker ... What’s next? You can take it from me that we’ll continue our commitment to providing the highest speeds at the lowest prices which is great news for customers and perhaps slightly worrying for our competitors!"

John Petter, MD of BT Retail, told the BBC:

"We have real concerns with their approach. Broadband speeds vary from line to line and so it is meaningless to use one speed for advertising. That is why we use the term 'up to'. Enforcing typical speed ranges is also dangerous as it could encourage more ISPs to cherry pick customers who will increase their average, leaving customers in rural and suburban areas under-served."

A Virgin Media Spokesperson said:

"Ofcom's latest report is yet another damning indictment that consumers continue to be treated like mugs and misled by ISPs that simply cannot deliver on their advertised speed claims."

As it stands Ofcom's recommendations for broadband speed advertising are ultimately still subject to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and its related consultation, which is due to post their conclusion in the very near future. However, a somewhat significant body of consumer groups and watchdogs have almost unanimously called for tougher measures. It seems likely that, whether some ISPs like it or not, the way speeds are promoted will soon change. As usual we intend to add more reactions as they come in.

UPDATE 10:09am

A comment from UK ISP KC ( Karoo ) has just arrived.

Nick Thompson, KC's Director of Consumer Services, said:

"The latest broadband speeds report from Ofcom certainly makes for interesting reading. It’s understandable that some consumers are disappointed with the broadband speeds they are achieving when average real-life broadband speeds are so much lower than the advertised “up to” speeds.

It’s good news that Ofcom, the ASA and the CAP are putting more pressure on ISPs to bring an end to the ‘arms race’ in broadband speed advertising, with a revised Code of Practice calling for typical speed ranges to be given equal prominence to eye-catching “up to” speeds as this will help consumers to make informed decisions.

KC has long been a champion of greater transparency on this issue, with our KC speed checker showing the actual broadband speed a customer can expect from us based on their postcode. More importantly, we’re committed to ongoing investment in our network to improve speeds further and give our customers a better online experience."

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