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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.

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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.

TT says:
23 July 2010

I live in a rural area but close to an exchange. My ISP says it could deliver 8Mbps but BT can only offer 6 Mbps an then only in the morning and early afternoon. BT are simply not interested in the rural community and up-grading their systems. This is at a time when more businesses are starting up and in rural areas (often from home). All the effort seems to go into urban support.

The ISPs seem to be criticised for what is BT's lack of development and investment. It is time that BT's failings were exposed.

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I live in a similar place. When I signed up with greenbee (John Lewis) they said to expect "up to 8Mbps", I mostly get 6 to 7 Mbps, which I find fast enough for most things. So I’m not unhappy. DL

allan brown says:
23 July 2010

We live 1.25miles from our local exchange in a small village, our linetests rarely achieve better than 320kbs, downloads are practically impossible, but ecommerce just about works. When will goverment realise that unless real investment is made the dream of superfast broadband is unachievable. BT arent interested in small communities like ours, and to be honest once their monopoly was broken the commercial reality was it wouldnt pay BT or any other company to deliver service to our area.

Douglas R Allen says:
23 July 2010

Yes, we are being conned over broadband speeds. However part of the conning is that the supplier does not make it clear that the old wiring in your home may have an adverse effect on your speed. The other day my speed fluctuated from 17kbits to 896kbits during a download. I do not know how much the house wiring contributed but I do know it is in a rather poor way – amateur work by the look of it.
But what is the cost of getting this fixed ? Astronomic.

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I live 6Km from the exchange in Monmouth. Plusnet gave an indicative speed of 500Kb when I applied for ADSL. The fastest download I have measured over the last year is 135kbps (still a useful increase over the fastest dial up achieved of 36kbps). However in the last month or so, the speed has dwindled, and I get long periods where the service drops completely. BT obviously provide the link to the exchange, and I have recently read of someone in the area being told by BT that despite having had ADSL for 4 years, he was NOW being told (after various engineer visits) that he was in fact too far from the exchange to get ADSL! Plusnet keep warning me that a BT visit could result in them charging me £164 if they find a fault in my wiring, yet nothing has been touched in the last 8 years, and earlier this year everything was fine on broadband. I wonder what Marthq Lane-Fox is going to do to fix this one?

Ross Jones says:
23 July 2010

I live 6.2 miles from the phone exhange.I have broadband with BT but I am unable to download anything as the speed is so slow.If I use Skype it packs up in the middles of a conversation and yhet I am paying almost £17 per month . I have no one else to move to as BT obviously control the wires !!

On holiday recently I found the Wifi available free were a revelation.

Gerry Brown says:
23 July 2010

Well I keep asking whatever company phones me, or I them, to get a price for BB and calls, they all tell me I will get up to 8 Mb’s. They say that the speed will go up to maby 20 Mb’s. But I insist that I want to know what speed I’ll get when I sign up, none of them will tell me. They all just say up to so many Mb’s. So is anyone out there, who can make these ISP’s tell what the speed is going to be now, not in a month year, 10 years. We want to know what the speed is N O W…

Mike Wilcock says:
24 July 2010

We live around 4 miles from our exchange in Kent on the outskirts of a relatively large town but we have experienced reductions and fluctuations in the last year or so. Initially we got aroudn 850Kb, but after new houses were built nearby this dropped below 300Kb. After working with our ISP (who seems to have tried everything) we understand that part of the fluctuation is down to their service "pushing" to achieve 8Mb but actually achieving the reverse and a consequential reduction. After agreeing to my ISP’s suggestion to "cap" the speed at 1Mb we briefly got up to 620Kb although this is still not sustained and we now average aroudn 480 most of the time. BT are simply not interested and despite haveing most of the wirning in our house replaced to no effect will not even consider an upgrade in our area. We needed the 50p levi to pay for improvements to broadband in the UK and the new coalition’s decision to cut it is simply short sighted – the market will not do what is required on its own.

Anne Newall says:
24 July 2010

We live rurally approx 8km from the exchange and we successfully received BT broadband for over 2 years. We had some minor issues with lines etc and lost connection 2 or 3 times, once for 6 days. We run our business from home and rely on internet sales. In December 2009 the line went down and BT tried to fix this. They replaced the switch at the exchange for a "new faster" one and since then we have never had any broadband. BT simply said, we cannot supply you anymore, goodbye! BT still take my monthly payments for this service and refuse to even try to sort this issue out. Why can we have broadband for over 2 years and then it just dissapears overnight? I do not understand and we never get any sense from BT, being passed from department to department with no avail!! We have now had to have satellite installed as this is our only (very expensive) option. Our livelihood depends on the internet, and this was taken away, without notice or apology, overnight. At this present time, if we need to download large amounts of data we have to drive 40 minutes to our nearest fast food restaurant to use WiFi, and buy lots of cups of coffee!!!

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We are on AOL for both Broadband and phone provider, having switched the latter from BT (tho’ BT still maintains the line). On changing last year, although using exactly the same equipment, we immediately experienced a deterioration in service with frequent drop-outs or failure to get on the net at all: it is particularly bad in the mornings and early afternoon, rather than evenings: an incoming phone call could also apparently casue a drop-out, and we were back to the old dial-up days of taking it in turns to use the net, otherwise things slowed to a standstill. In desperation, I replaced our router (one that AOL had sent us tho’ we’d said we already had one!) and had to buy a new wireless adapter, as now the old one woudn’t work with the new router, and things are slighlty better, tho’ we still get some mornings when drop-outs or non-connection occur.

I am now signed up to: Think broadband where you can test your broadband speed, and send your own statistics in, find out more about differnet providers including mobile broadband. And hopefully if more of us send in our reports there will be more evidence of distribution of poor reception, which will be a lever to get more action.

Chris Ray says:
25 July 2010

I run a small IT company in rural Cheshire and have the opportunity to check broadband speeds at a number of client’s premises. Here are some common issues I meet.

1. "BT"
Don’t think that using BT as your ISP will improve service "as it’s the same company that provide the telephone lines", it isn’t. There are at least three separate businesses under the "BT" banner, each with their own remits and objectives. Those of you with "BT" ISP services have a contract with BT-retail, which is a purely marketing and billing company. It is Openreach who look after the lines from the exchange to your house. BT-retail has exactly the same relationship with Openreach as every other ISP (by law, I think). So, as Openreach charge all ISPs, including BT-retail, an arm and a leg for sorting out problems, BT-retail are just as reluctant to call them in as any other ISP. And it’s Openreach, not BT-retail that has to invest in improving the line quality. Openreach are slowly moving on this by laying fibre-optic cables into the centre of remote villages using a technology called FTTC. However, as their biggest payback is to deploy FTTC in suburban areas, and they are a commercial company, this is what they are doing. A small amount of the roll-out is going into remote villages where it is needed most, but it will be years before non-city dwellers have decent broadband speeds, without government pressure.
2. It really is amazing how much poor internal house wiring can affect your broadband speed. There are many places on the Internet that will give you an estimation of your likely broadband speed, but they all base their estimate on line distance between your house and the telephone exchange and ignore any impact of internal wiring. They can get away with this because internal wiring is your problem not theirs, as it no doubt says in the contract. So if you are getting broadband speeds significantly less than the speed-checking websites estimate, get someone to check your internal wiring, and don’t rely on some idiot on the phone talking you through where to put filters. It doesn’t work like that.
3. Not all problems are down to the telephone line. Sometimes it’s the connection between the telephone exchange and your ISP, or even your ISP’s servers that are to blame. If your broadband has stopped altogether have a look at the front of your modem. There are usually two green lamps one labelled "ADSL" and one labelled "PPP" or "Internet". The ADSL light tells you you are connected to the telephone exchange, the other tells you you are connected to your ISP. You need BOTH to access the Internet. You can’t get the PPP light without the ADSL light, but you might see the ADSL light alone, which tells you the fault is not in your telephone line but probably in your ISP’s equipment. You still have to complain to your ISP’s helpdesk of course, but at least you can now tell where the fault is.

Hope this helps.

raymond massey says:
26 July 2010

I live on Anglesey. Four years ago I joined Talktalk (international) which was widely proclaimed as including free broadband. I then found that I could not have free broadband because my exchange had not been ‘unbundled’, so I would have to pay £10 p.m. The speed was a miserable 2.2 meg. but I was assured that Talktalk were working ‘flat out’ to convert the exchanges and I should get free broadband within months. I am still waiting! Last year some ‘tweeks’ (their word) were carried out which improved the speed to 7.8 meg, which has subsequently decayed down to around 5.9, for which privilege the fee was increased to £13.99 p.m. The vast majority of Talktalk customers are getting free broadband and I am sick of being ripped off, is there anything I can do?

Gerald Kennion says:
26 July 2010

TalkTalk ( Tiscali ) have just added about £10/month to my bill with no warning.
I had a bundle which included broadband, line rental & free UK landline calls any time.
They are now trying to charge me line rental on top of the £20/month I pay.
This is just not on !

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Ever been caught out, unaware of having entered the London Congestion Zone? The first you hear of this is a wriggle-proof £100 fine that seems so harsh that you take considerable trouble that it doesn’t happen the next time. It’s not rocket science, it works.

So why can’t we have this as the model for all our consumer products and services? …. harsh, fast, meaningful and wriggle-free financial punishment for the offender.

Oh, I hear the doubtfuls already ….. you would increase the business risk to the provider and hence stifle innovation. If innovation means being able to launch services that don’t work properly or only work intermittently without any redress, then I’m all for stifling it.

Or the doubtfuls again ….. oh, but if we delayed the start we wouldn’t enjoy any services even although they are clearly beyond the technical capability of the hardware that we’ve already got. Enjoy? ….. you’re kidding. I’d argue that the emergence of the inadequate systems that are run on a shoe string are one of the main reasons why the proper solutions never arrive ….. the business case is simply set against investment needed for robust solutions if the inadequate systems are already profitable.

It seems quite obvious to me that harsh fines or compensation is the tool we need to make the inadequate systems unprofitable. Simple! ….. and effective.

We need a life ….. supported by proper services instead of being caught in the debilitating swamp of breakdown, complaint, got it going, breakdown, complain on phone, breakdown, complain to Customer Services, complain to CEO, complain to Regulator, appeal to Ombudsman, involve politicians, solicitors, courts ….. a never-ending sloth of no hope. These avenues clearly don’t work. They are designed to consume our energy and encourage us to give-up. They never seem to get round to hurting the errant supplier on a consistent basis.

If all the huge cost of this human after-treatment pervading so many avenues of our everyday lives, not just internet provision, could be distilled and poured into development of a nimble and effective harsh-punishment consumer protection process ….. hey, isn’t this where Which? started out its life?. You’ve failed us and drifted into the far easier duplication of new-product awareness business …. that’s available elsewhere in any case. Time to give up the magazine business and return to your campaigning roots, Which?.

At the risk of being offered a thousand exceptions, I’d say that the swamp we are caught in is a peculiarly British mess ….. caused by a make-do-and-mend attitude where the pride and enjoyment of achieving high standards has almost vanished. I’m not a well-traveled man, but Germany seems to work much better ….. and my belief is that their consumer protection system delivers when compared to ours. If you chaps at Which? could publish some benchmarking to compare us to other nations it would be a start on building something much better and much needed. Take the good bits and start the long haul of a campaign to copy them into a decent Consumer Protection system for the UK.

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I live just over 3/4 of a mile from BT exchange. I was with aol until 18 months ago and was getting around 1.5mbps down and 250 up. Now changed to o2 same line same exchange what a difference 7mbps down (advertised 8) and over 1mpbs up has bundled o2 gear at exchange. The point I am trying to make is a lot is to do with your ISP as much as the copper cables BT uses which we all know should have been replaced years ago when BT had the monopoly.

colin_e says:
7 October 2010

As several comments have said, an Internet service is now as critical for running a business from home, or remote working, as electricity is. Both of these are supposed to be government priorities.

No small consumer has the clout to force a proper Service Level Agreement (SLA) from an ISP, so the supplier can simply fail to deliver anything like what they sold the customer and he/she still has to pay. This would not be acceptable in any other are of business.

Sadly, like most regulators in this country (FSA anyone?), OFCOM has been allowed to become far too cosy with the suppliers and seems to treat them as it’s customer, not the public.

OFCOM needs to be replaced by a body with a clear remit to be a consumer protection body, not an industry mouthpiece.

This body should have the power to set standard SLA terms for the industry (e.g, if a service fails completely, or fails to reach the advertised performance on a certain day, the customer doesn’t pay for that day.). It should also act as the first point of call for adjudication on claims for damages to business caused by Internet service failures.

Yes, this would increase prices (although not as much as the industry would have you believe i’m sure), but the current system isn’t so much a business transaction as gambling on the chance that you might get something like the service you payed for, with no recourse if you don’t.


Internet service Providers need to eb held accountable. if you bought a chocolate bar and it said 100g but there was actually 10g in there then authorities will get involved. This is exactly the same principle, anyone who thinks it is not is a moron. Almost everyoen is conned, some more than others. I am supposed to get like 20mb/s and the average here for my ISP (BT) is 6.7mb/s and mine is 1.9mb/s today. this is unacceptable. This is what tha ASA is for. start indictments or whatever. They need to be held accountable, no more!

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I thought it would be interesting to have a look back at one or two of the older topics on Which? Conversation.

My ISP has – at last – stopped referring ‘up to’ speeds, which have annoyed me and many other customers. There is a postcode checker that gives a minimum, maximum and average download speed. I have never managed to achieve the average download speed for my postcode area.

We may come to respect our ISPs for their honesty, but that may be some time off. Thanks to Ofcom’s efforts, I don’t think we are cheated so badly. and I no longer feel the need to make constructive criticism to my own ISP.

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12 February 2013

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had an appointment at hospital this morning at 9 am still there at 12pm the doctor saw 1 person b4 me the NHS IS F—D