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ASA tells BT to give accurate broadband speed estimates

Snail on keyboard

An Advertising Standards Authority ruling has set some hares running in the world of broadband. The ASA upheld a complaint from a BT customer who claimed they were misled as to the speed they could achieve.

This is an interesting development, particularly for the 28,000 of you who have signed our Broadband Speed Guaranteed petition.

The ASA argued that the ‘availability checker’ on BT’s website, which gives you an estimate of the speeds you can expect at your address, amounts to a significant persuasive factor in a prospective customer deciding whether they’ll opt for BT broadband. Only, in the case of the person complaining, they couldn’t achieve the speeds they were quoted at their address. BT’s advertising on its website was therefore deemed misleading in the eyes of the ASA.

As a result, the ASA has told BT that its availability checker must provide accurate information.

Give us speed guaranteed

Our campaign calls on broadband providers to give accurate and personalised speed estimates at the point of sale, and for this to be put in writing. When you’re in the process of committing to a long-term (and sometimes very expensive) contract, you ought to be able to rely on the information you’re being given.

And although there’s no guarantee that you’ll always be able to receive the maximum speed you were offered, your provider should give you a realistic range. If you can’t regularly achieve speeds within this range, you should be let out of your contract penalty-free.

Have you ever checked your predicted broadband speeds on a providers’ website only to find out that, in reality, your speeds are much lower? Are you paying for speeds you’re just not getting?


Although I havent seen the full details of the particular case quoted by ASA, I would have thought a “best estimate” of the broadband speed available at a particular address is all that is available.
What are ISPs supposed to do if they havent any active data for an existing broadband connection ?
Accurate figures would require a test broadband connection to be made and the data then recorded for every property !

I can understand ASA’s concern if there are significant flaws in the methods used to make the estimates.

Tink says:
8 May 2014

It’s all fair and good being allowed out of contract if you’re not getting the speeds you should be getting, but ultimately those in rural areas with no access to fast broadband it’s just tough. All the DSL providers rely on BT’s network so moving from one provider to another won’t make a blind bit of difference, and unfortunately this is the case for around three quarters of the UK.

Spot on Tink
The maximum speed is set by the link to the exchange and really shouldnt change over time.
However how much bandwidth an ISP provides from the exchange to the www is down to how much money they spend and affects peak time speed. So changing ISP can improve peak time speed on a BT network connection.

My ISP used to claim speeds ‘up to 24 Mbps’, which annoyed me because the best speed I achieved was about 7 Mbps download. I complained that the ISP was guilty of misrepresentation and many others complained too.

Now the 24 Mbps claim has been dropped and the ISPs postcode checker advises me that a speed of 9 Mbps is the average for my area, with a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 11.5 Mbps. I have stopped complaining, even though the speed I achieve is towards the lower end of the range promised. I would be even more impressed if the ISP told me to expect 5 Mbps, since I would be achieving more than expected.

It is time that ASA banned all advertising that includes ‘up to’ claims.

Tink says:
9 May 2014

Wavechange – this is exactly the problem, if they tell you you’re going to 5Mb and you get 8Mb you’d be delighted. So what would stop the ISPs deliberately giving you a slower speed estimate to avoid a complaint from a customer or the ASA?

KevinP says:
9 May 2014

Why is that a problem? If ISPs predicted at the lower end and you achieved better then you are going to be a happy chappy. If I go to the pub and order a pint, pay for a pint and get a pint and a half I don’t see that as a problem 🙂 What I don’t want is to order a pint and only get half a pint!

Martin Robards says:
9 May 2014

We are in a rural area in SE, but only 1hr by train from London and 7min drive to the station-yet our best BB speed is 0.6 -0.5 Mbps . BT says there is no plan to upgrade our exchange, presumably because the population density is too low and our line is about 8Km in a roundabout route from the exchange.
Yet they still ask me to upgrade to a higher speed! and pay a higher tariff.

Jenny Morgan says:
9 May 2014

We live in London but continue to receive poor broadband both in terms of speed and broadband being cut off. If we could have BT Infinity it should help but exchange still not geared for this so not possible. In this day and age and living close to Central London this is appalling !

Peter Lorimer says:
9 May 2014

You don’t need the words ‘living close to Central London’ for it to be deemed appalling!

There is another problem with Fibre To The Cabinet (FTTC). If you live near the cabinet then you may achieve something like the claimed speed, but if your cabinet is half a mile away (as it may well be) then you have half a mile of old copper or aluminium wire for the signal to get through and quite likely it won’t be any better than your old ADSL, you’ll just pay more for it.
The only real solution is Fibre To The House (FTTH) A few progressive villages have installed this and we get between 900 and 1,000Mb/s, probably the fastest broadband in the country. There is a cost, but it’s comparable to best FTTC and you can ditch BT completely, use VoIP – no line rental required.

geum says:
10 May 2014

Oh what a joy it would be to ditch BT – and Virgin. Time they put some money into providing either cable service or an equivalent (local wifi?) to those who are paying as much as those on cable service itself

I’m sick and tired of their adverts promising to upgrade optical cable to 20Mb when they make absolutely no effort to improve the copper wire bandwidth we rural customers are stuck with (and that applies to BT too). On top of which during the last fortnight they “improved” their email service so that it often took over 30 mins hanging around waiting for a Home page link connection to the email servers. Tonight it was about 3 mins – they clearly don’t have the eqpt to handle their customers peak demand – so God knows what the download speed is under these circumstances.

OK I know that’s not exactly part of the download speed, but what’s the point of having 8 Mb on a download when you’ve such an appalling delay in achieving a connection? Connection time should be as much a part of the service quote as the download speed once connected.

Just for info, to pjaj.

It would be interesting to know just how quickly, the BT Infinity speed drops off with distance.

I changed to BT Infinity 2 last November. The street cabinet is 875m away, which is just nicely over 1/2 a mile, and I was pleased to get 15Mbps upload and 50Mbps download. Both of these speeds vary from time to time; but the upload speed has always been in the range 14 – 16 Mbps, and the download speed in the range 46 – 54 Mbps.

Hence I am quite happy. But what speed I would get, if I was 2 miles away from the street cabinet, I do not know.

G Hampton says:
13 May 2014

Gosh you are quite lucky then, I am 900 metres away and the engineer told me this is far enough away to affect speed. My download on BT Infinity 2 is 15Mb and upload 3Mb. Our problem is the line from junction box to house is copper and I am told this has affected speed as well. I would be wary of moving 2 miles away from a junction box

Peter M says:
21 July 2014

“quite likely it won’t be any better than your old ADSL, you’ll just pay more for it.”

Sorry, I really have to challenge this assertion. I believe (but could be wrong) that Openreach has a minimum speed of 15 Mbps as a level acceptable for FTTC connections. If you are some distance from the exchange and with poor wiring (or even good wiring, speaking from past experience with about 6 km between home and exchange in N Wales), then IF you are able to get FTTC, odds are it will be significantly better than not “any better than your old ADSL”. Quite unlikely you were previously getting 15 Mbps under those circumstances.

I moved (to Merseyside) but unfortunately had not done enough checks before putting the offer in (had seen about a dozen properties and this one slipped my initial broadband checks, so having moved here, found it doesn’t have access to VirginMedia cable, though 80 feet away on another street, it is), and the FTTC estimate for me here is 33.5 Mbps (while the chip shop the other side of the main road behind me has an estimate of 67 Mbps, served from a fibre cabinet 20 feet from my back garden).

Estimate for the homes in N Wales where I used to live, which was 2.5 Mbps when I was there until ADSL 2+ went live (dropped to 1.5 Mbps), shows 80 Mbps, so my move was perhaps not the best idea! Anyway, happy with other facilities here so can live with it.

Ex BT BB Designer says:
9 May 2014

an estimate is exactly what is says (not a quote) and is achievable in ideal conditions. Of course ideal conditions rarely exist. The cables don’t run the the shortest distance according to google maps and line losses, type and gauge (thickness) of cable in the network will affect the speed. Contention ratio’s (number of customers sharing the same card on the ISP’s equipment) affect download speed. That said, line losses therefore speed is more predictable with infinity BB as it’s only copper the short distance from the green street cabinet to your house. Make the most of any speed you do get by having minimal internal wiring in your house and fitting a broadband accelerator. A poor router wi-fi will affect speed, consider going over to 5Ghz or better use a lan/cat5 cable direct between your router & PC.

Consumers live in the real world and not an ideal one. We have had enough of this nonsense and unless ISPs are honest with their customers and potential customers then perhaps some large fines would help bring those in marketing down to earth.

I am not an expert but would suggest that it would make sense to estimate speeds from those achieved by customers living nearby. I was told that this is not possible when I suggested this to my ISP, but I wonder if this is true.

Peter M says:
21 July 2014

In my experience with a number of ISPs over the past 12-13 years, the estimates have all been fairly close to what is achieved. I think the ISPs and even Openreach do a pretty good job with their estimates.

I think that the ASA was misguided in its decision – there was no deliberate “misleading” by BT, and as the ex BT BB design person says, and the factors itemised by Topher, below, lots of things can affect the eventual results… in articles and discussions on ThinkBroadband.com, for example, electric fences, Christmas lights (both causing electrical interference), and even extension wiring (picking up interference within the home) have been reported as reasons for problems with BB speed.

Back in Wales, I helped a friend and simply removing the extension wiring that went to the first floor, gave a speed increase of 1 Mbps (from 2.5 to 3.5 Mbps)… quite significant.

Can you name names as to which ISPs make these “tempting offers” without speed tests, and if Which? is going to push for higher speeds, perhaps some “blind test” sampling (in association with some of the ISP / broadband specialist sites – so you can get a large sample across the country, not just members) could be done to show those ISPs which have flagrantly misleading estimates, or give no estimates at all.

My understanding is that the broadband speed depends on these things . . .

1. Distance from the exchange. This information is available even if the customer does not already have broadband. There are published graphs that show how the speed reduces as the distance increases.

2. Exchange equipment. I believe that ADSL 2+ equipment at the exchange gives the fastest service. Not all ISPs have this equipment, but if they quote a speed to a customer they will know what equipment they will be using. Fibre optic connection will give a much faster service and the reduction of speed with distance is less.

3. Line quality. If the line between the house and the exchange is old, or has bad connections, or electrical noise sources nearby, then the speed will be less. The ISP can test the line and if defective, should get it repaired.

4. Householder’s equipment. If the modem router is connected as close as possible to the incoming telephone twisted pair the speed will be the fastest possible. If there is a lot of internal house wiring before the modem router, speed will be reduced. All BT phone sockets should have an ADSL filter, if they don’t, speed will be reduced. If the connection is by Wi-Fi the speed can be reduced if the distance between modem-router and PC is long, or passes through walls. A neighbour’s WiFi can interfere and electrical equipment in the house can also interfere. Changing the WiFi channel can help resolve these problems.

I believe that the ISP can predict an expected speed. If the actual speed is considerably less, then a process to determine the cause should be conducted. The customer should connect the modem router to the BT socket closest to the incoming connection; he/she should ensure all BT sockets have ADSL filters: he/she should connect the PC using an eathernet cable, then measure the speed. If it is significantly less than the figure quoted by the ISP, then it is likely that the BT phone line is defective.

Alan G says:
9 May 2014

Almost complete, the biggie you missed is contention. At quiet times I can get 16M on my “24M” line. But at busy times that drops to around 6-8M, mostly due to contention with my neighbours as we all fight for our share of the bandwidth. That’s one reason business BB costs more than consumer, the contention ratio (number of people sharing) is lower. (And of course some ISPs will throttle (or, as they say, manage) the bandwidth to “even out” the experience for all)

But a lot of the factors are weather related too, hot weather affects copper. as does cold weather.
The joints expand and shrink changing their electrical qualities. Noise sources come and go – for example road works somewhere along the route. That’s why speed checkers etc can never be more than an estimate, or more correctly an average. This stuff is not an exact science, it doesn’t operate under lab conditions. One reason fibre is more consistent is that it is inherently immune to many of the physical variables that afflict metal conductors.

Fair enough, but I suggest that the service you receive is marketed as 6 Mbps minimum. There is no misrepresentation and at times you could be a very happy customer.

Alan G, I agree, I missed contention. Apologies.

It may be because I don’t think I experience it. I frequently check the line speed and with a bit of variation it seems to be pretty constant.

Perhaps some ISPs have more contention that others, because they don’t invest as much. It would be interesting to know who the ‘bad ISPs” are, if I may call them that.

Could we do a survey? Anyone know how to do that with our readership?

Contention at the exchange has not been an issue for some time according to the technical forums.
However what does slow you down at peak times is how much bandwidth your ISP has purchased or provided between the exchange, its own servers and onwards.
Moving to a more expensive ISP may not improve your max download speed but it can have a big effect on your peaktime download speed.
I connect via TalkTalk’s LLU equipment at the exchange but use a reseller as ISP who provide their own support and bandwidth. My max download speed of 18Mbps doesnt drop at peak times, my neighbours with TalkTalk see a drop at peaktime.
Of course I pay more for this level of service.

FamilyGuy says:
9 May 2014

BT are providing FTTH for us and charging extortionate line rental fees for this as a condition of the contract. But if I have FTTH why do I need a line – surely the line rental should be scrapped – it can’t be for the new FTTH as the package cites this fee irrespective of whether it is FTTC or FTTH. Is this a scam to make the consumer pay an exorbitant amount of money for something which in our case we don’t need ?

Peter M says:
21 July 2014

When you say “extortionate”, just how much are you paying?

Also, if it is really so high, why did you go ahead with it?

I don’t know the exact details for FTTH, but assume that the situation is really just a part of the implementation not matching up with the technology. For other connections, the exchange line is essential (even if no calls are made) for the signals to reach the user, and there’s a not unreasonable cost for long term maintenance (the phone service generally is a more reliable utility than most others, and will continue to work during a power cut {where a cordless phone won’t – one reason for keeping a single old fashioned, cord phone in the house, just in case}.

However, I can see your query being reasonable, except that one assumes, for general situations of upgrading from a plain landline to FTTH, that calls to your existing number are still “expected”, and at present they don’t come via the fibre, which is only there for data. Long term it may change, and probably has done for some other firms like Hyperoptic, and so on, which fit fibre, and may have the voice call sent through the fibre, too.

Lawrence P says:
9 May 2014

When we were in Wandsworth we had BT infinity and had a super fast broadband and were achieving very fast speeds – on moving to Milton Keynes we took Superfast’ Fibre-optic broadband – up to 76 Mbps! from the Utility Warehouse in an 18 month contract, but we have been disappointed by the service. During the day on Thursday 8th May we had a download 39.59 mbps and upload of 9.90mbps, and on Friday 9th May at 10pm had a download of 30.55 mbps and upload of 9.87 mbps.

Looking at U Switch it would appear that we are getting BT Infinity Extra which boasts unto 38mb download speed – but we are not getting this in the evening.

We wanted Unlimited BT Infinity 2 which is the one that boasts up to 76 mbps (the one we had in London) and we feel cheated by the claims of Utility Warehouse, which are still being claimed today on their website – can we get out of this contract?

peter lorimer says:
9 May 2014

I know it’s my fault for living in the middle of nowhere. In August when the S. Yorkshire Digital Region fibre network is switched off I face a drop from 10 meg down and 1 meg up to .5 down and who knows what up. Back to the rubbish copper wires from Penistone exchange 5 miles away. Good eh?

Kennyeth says:
10 May 2014

Can you explain what this is that you mentioned as I too live in semi-rural S. Yorkshire and I have not heard anything about what you say??
“In August when the S. Yorkshire Digital Region fibre network”

Peter M says:
21 July 2014

South Yorkshire had a fast broadband project – see http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/i/6305.html and then do a search on page http://www.thinkbroadband.com/archive/1.html for “Yorkshire” to find more articles about the “Digital Region”.

Many millions of pounds was ploughed in, but a lack of new customers, poor marketing, established service from VirginMedia, or whatever else, caused it not to be a success, sadly.

I did look at going to S Yorks, to get higher speed broadband, but got very little useful information about where they served (I wanted a postcode list, so I’d buy somewhere already served, but they were slapdash in response to me and I feel lucky I didn’t move there now, though would consider locations with FTTC now, in, for example, Sheffield).

peter lorimer says:
10 May 2014

I believe everyone who will be affected by the DR switch off will have been contacted by their service provider. These providers are mainly smaller local South Yorkshire companies. Google ‘Digital Region closure’ for more information.

Here in rural France, many kilometres from the exchange, with old wires, I get between 1.5 and 2.0 Meg. I discovered that DLM or dynamic line management reduces line speed. I am informed that when first connected, it gradually increases line speed up to a point where errors occur, then it throttles back to allegedly give a better service.

I found that my line speed was marginal for streaming video, sometimes stopping frequently. So I asked the ISP to switch off DLM, It runs a bit faster, I can stream movies, and occasionally it goes wrong and I have to switch off the modem and turn it on again. I am happy with this situation, except for the rental, which is much higher than UK.

If you have low speeds, perhaps you might try asking your ISP to switch off your DLM. You can always get it switched on again.

Michael Duggleby says:
10 May 2014

It has taken me since January this year to get AOL admit that they are unable to give me the speeds that I should be getting. I changed to BT on the 1st May and have a regular speed of 5 mbps +/-. I changed to BT as they said these would be the speeds I would get. I have spend over £40. on phone calla to AOL, has their engineers out 2 times and Open reach 3 times. There was not fault on the line. The router was changed as well. In the lasr phone call I had with AOL I pressed them and after holding the line while they talked to Open reach engineers the result was ” The band width was not big enough” What ever this means, AOL have not been trueful and should have been honest enough at the out set to say they could not deliver. What were they costing me per month £26.00!!!!! This says everything. I intend to write to the Ombudsman about how I was treated. I did write to AOL but had no reply!!!

Yebow says:
10 May 2014

I am a Virgin Broadband Customer for last 10 years and I am facing the same problems, many times their Broadband speed is not what they said.
Every year they increasing their price higher and higher.
I used to get 20MB and they charged £40 per month.

A nice easy win for Which. What about addressing a more difficult area of broadband provision?
Where the infrastructure means BT customers get DIRE speeds but are charged the same price as customers who can? Where people have little choice who provides the service and have to use BT? Come on Which lets see you tackle something we can really applaud – reducing the price for those customers.

Peter Lorimer says:
12 May 2014

Yes Jeanette R – some provision is a much more important issue than speed for those of us in rural locations. Whilst I have a little sympathy for those with speed issues, I have much more for those near to my house who can’t get any broadband signal from BT. It’s a shame they don’t spend the same (or more!) on provision as they seem to be spending on superfast speeds for some.
I support your call for Which to take this on board. Can we enlist Margaret Hodge to help? Her voice seems to be heard in important places!

G Hampton says:
13 May 2014

I was promised 32mb for Infinity from BT in writing and never achieved anywhere near this. Only ever got half, around 16/17mb after a whole year now. The engineer who came told me BT should never have promised this speed as our wires from the junction box to our house are copper.

Easy for me to say but. . . .did you ask them to more than halve the monthly charge?

John says:
13 May 2014

From past experiences I wouldn’t have you ‘know who’ as a gift. I’m in a small town and have ADSL2 I get 16-17meg and truly unlimited 24/7 on copper! Ask yourself why providers want to lock you in to a 12 or 18 month contract. Is it because once you find out it cr*p you’re locked in. Then if you complain they say you need to upgrade to their superior service.

Peter Lorimer says:
13 May 2014

John – I assume you are quite near to the exchange if you can get those speeds on ADSL2? I think I’ll be lucky to get any sort of speed on ADSL2 as I’m 5 miles from the exchange. An Openreach engineer told me ages ago that I’m on the poorer of the two lines that come into into our village.