/ Technology

Are you being conned over your broadband speed?

Snail on laptop

A new poll says almost half of us aren’t happy with our broadband speed. No wonder, the speed we get in reality bears no relation to what we’re promised in adverts.

The survey comes shortly after telecoms regulator Ofcom found that many internet service providers weren’t living up to the spirit of the broadband speed code of practice. This code was designed to make sure that people were told the speed they were likely to get when they signed up for a broadband package.

Oh, why are we waiting?

Ofcom’s come up with some new proposals – but, frankly, we’re a bit fed up with waiting here at Which? We showed in 2007 that consumers weren’t getting their promised broadband speed. Ofcom then found the same thing.

Ofcom introduced a voluntary code of practice in 2008 – and it’s this that Ofcom has found some ISPs aren’t sticking to. But this is three years after we raised the problem.

So how long do we have to put up with this? Three years after we showed consumers were being promised one thing and given another, there’s not been enough action. In any other industry there would be two words for this: RIP OFF.

What we want to change

There’s one key change we want – allowing consumers to end their contracts if what they get isn’t what they were promised. ISPs would then have an incentive to tell the truth, or else watch their customers go elsewhere.

At the moment, you’re locked into your contract (typically for a year) even if you’re not getting what you expected.

Ceri Stanaway, our broadband expert at Which?, had these words of warning for ISPs:

“UK broadband users aren’t asking for the earth – just for a little honesty from our ISPs. Surely it’s in broadband providers’ best interests to be realistic and open about the speeds we should expect. Otherwise they run the risk of unhappy customers who’ll ditch them at the soonest opportunity because of broken promises.”

So come on Ofcom – stop time wasting and start regulating.

[UPDATE JUNE 11 2015] How new Ofcom boss says she’ll improve services for you.

John Bewick says:
23 July 2010

I am very sympathetic to those who do not get the speed that is advertised but just getting any sort of reasonable broadband speed to our village would be a start. We are about 1.5 miles from the main exchange and served by old wires so the speed available is frequently less than 0.5meg and makes any form of broadband use painful at times. While the speed available is sufficient for simple useage it is frustratingly slow when trying to order things on line or make reservations and it really has an effect on our business, which relies on the internet for important emails and for exchanging large files of information. BT seems to be totally uninterested in getting good quality network coverage in place to serve rural locations, even one like ours which is hardly remote, being only 1hour from London and adjacent to the county town of East Sussex. The poor quality of service available will severely limit any businesses trying to set up in similar locations.

B Morris says:
24 July 2010

I live only 5 miles from the centre of Gloucester but BTbroadband here is very slow – max 1Meg according to the BT speed checking service and in practise slower than that at peak times (early evening). Impossible to watch BBC , ITV etc on broadband due to the frequent pauses waiting for the next few minutes of the programme to download. Our telephone connection is from an overhead line and the local telehone exchange is about one mile away

Hugh Kiff says:
23 July 2010

Last September I joined Virgin Media for both phone and internet services.

As I live in a rural area about 6 kms from the exchange and do not expect a very high speed.

However in October it was getting close to 2 megabits.

During October the speed and phone dropped out. After several weeks they identified the problem – a tree brushing against the line.

A week later it dropped out again – flooded junction box.

Each time the line drops it takes at least a week before an engineer attempts to sort the problem out.

Almost every week the internet connection drops and takes a week or so to re-establish.

So in practice I never reach much above 800 kilobits.

Virgin use BT and in spite of repeated problems (at least 20 incidents) they both say there is no problem, or if there is it is the fault of the other party.

I have now referred the matter to ISPA and subsequently to CISAS and await their judgement.

Robert Kellie says:
23 July 2010

My line is measured as 3.9 Km from the exchange. The BT Openreach engineers say that I should get about 3 Meg. Just as with the comments above, the line faults are constant and manifold – broken wires, flooded junction boxes, tree damage, vehicle damage and engineers meddling with other lines and disconnecting mine. I almost feel that BT has a vendetta against me. I rarely get a useable connection for more than 7 days and am frequently without any connection for days. When the connection is up I sometimes only get 50kb.
The appalling thing is that I gather my ISP has to pay for an Openreach engineer to solve each problem even though Openreach created the fault in the first place.
Referring to Ofcom has been a wasted effort – BT have the monopoly on us rural folks. We do need an organisation with greater independence from BT and with enough clout to make BT provide a service.

Roy Shopland says:
23 July 2010

I live approximately 1 mile from our exchange in a community of 2000 about 8 miles from Exeter so not exactly in the back of beyond. However my broadband speed never reaches 0.5 Meg which is not sufficient for most purposes. When I approach my ISP (a subsidiary of BT!!!) they say there is nothing that they can do as it is a BT issue because of the sub standard infrastructure. They claim they can only correspond with their parent if there is a fault and this is not a fault!!!. When I approach BT they say speed is an issue that is the responsibility of the ISP and they cannot comment!! I have wiritten to Ian Livingstone CEO of BT but can only get a standard response from an underling who knows nothing about the local conditions/situation!! There is no way to break through this system which is clearly designed to frustrate the customer in the hope/expectation that they will give up. I am beginning to lose the will to live myself so clearly this is a straetgy that works. I have approached my MP and The Minister (James Hunt) who said we would all get a min of 2 meg within 2 years. However it is clear that BT is not signed up to this vision. There is no incentive for BT to worry about those of us living in a rural community as they and the ISP get the same revenue no matter how bad the service is. I will not howver be holding my breath.This privatisation was clearly a mistake as without competeition BT can continue to treat its customers with complete disdain.

Cealocanth says:
23 July 2010

I live about 1.5 miles from the exchange. When I first had Broadband I was told I could expect 4Mbps download. On connection I measured 3.8 Mbps but within days this had dropped to around 2 Mbps and stayed this way for about a year regardless of the complaints and tests I made. It may be coincidence, perhaps the ISP improved its service, but after buying a terminal plate from BT the download speed went up to around 4Mbps. However there is more than that to this. The BBC has a diagnostic page where it not only checks your download speed but also your streaming speed, the speed of the latter is essential if you intend to use iPLayer etc. My streaming speed now generally runs between 3 and 3.8 Mbps whereas my friend's Virgin circuit which is claimed to be a 10 Mbps circuit occasionally only streams at 2 Mbps, and another friend's Talk Talk circuit which claims a download speed of 20Mbps rarely reaches 1 Mbps. It has something to do with Packet Switching. It is explained by thinking of the Internet as if it were a train and you are either an individual or a group. The download speed is the speed at which the train travels, and if you are an individual eg a short email, you are popped onto the train and you get there in a reasonable time, but if you are a group ( a picture or a video) and there are a lot of other people wanting to get on, then you are put on train one at a time in rotation with the other travellers. This means your group doesn't become complete until the last member appears some minutes later. It appears to depend on the number of users and if you purchase a cheap facility, as do many others, then you get a poor result.


It's about time the word "speed" was removed completely from the advertising. Broadband speed is the data rate your modem synchronises with the equipment in the exchange. That's dictated by the copper wires.

It's lies to say that this speed will decrease in the evening. The truth is that the latency increases when others are using the connection because your data packets get queued for the servers. But the data packets between your modem and the exchange will always be transmitted at the line sync speed regardless of what's going on elsewhere in the network.

I just wish the ISP's marketing people would not try to mislead us.

What I and most of the earlier posters want is a higher speed connection between my modem and the exchange. And that needs major investment to replace the copper. My employer has just been told it will cost £200,000 to increase the speed of our office connection.

Chris Ray says:
25 July 2010

Not strictly true, long telephone lines are sensitive to interference that slow down the sync speed. One form of interference is from the good old medium wave transmitters that broadcasters like the BBC use all over the world. This gets significantly worse in the evening apparently. City telephone exchanges have a mix of business and domestic customers so during the evening domestic customers use the bandwidth not being used by the business customers. However, if your exchange mas mostly domestic customers, like most rural exchanges, then service will slow significantly when everyone starts using it in the evening. Agree about marketing people.