/ Technology

Broadband: No one likes being short-changed

Fibre broadband network concept

If you bought a pint of milk and found when you got home it was only a quarter full, you’d be well within your rights to demand what you’d paid for, and to complain further if you didn’t get it.

Broadband is now an essential part of daily life.

But because weasels write broadband ads, there’s usually an ‘up to’ prefix before the headline speed on offer.

This means that if you’re paying for ‘up to 16’ Megabits per second, but spending your evenings watching the shimmering petals of the buffering icon rather than Gardeners’ World, you could face the frustration of your provider simply pointing to its small print.

Slow broadband affects millions

I’ve recently been house-hunting in rural Devon and found that download speeds varied from a painfully slow 0.1Mbps, up to 16Mbps. But this is far from a localised issue – slow broadband affects millions of people all over the UK.

Weasel illustration illustration by: Gillian Blease

In our recent survey we found that 13 million households in the UK experience problems with their internet connection. Nearly half of those surveyed had experienced much slower speeds than normal, and for most this was a frequent problem, not a one-off.

Companies have a plethora of excuses: you might be too far from the exchange (a common theme for those in rural areas); there may be too many people using the connection at one time; your walls might be ‘too thick’, or high-speed fibre might not have arrived in your area yet (again, a common complaint for rural areas) despite the ubiquitous ads for fibre connections.

For many in rural areas, particularly those who aren’t able to get about, broadband is much more than a convenience; it can be their connection to friends, family, shops and increasingly employment, too. It is high time that broadband providers delivered on their promises.


“weasels write broadband ads”. The purpose of ads is to persuade you to buy; they will be written by people whose professional training is to push the positives and leave out the negatives. We have to see through this. If there are customers who can get the full speed declared, then the ad is not stricly misleading; distance from the exchange, other users, the location of your wireless hub and equipment, will surely have an effect on the speed you achieve. How would you increase the speed for these customers? It seems fibre is the answer and this needs to be rolled out as quickly as possible. But if you do choose to live in a rural area, or are househunting, you should be aware of broadband speed problems that currently exist. And what did these rural communities do before broadband?
In short, I think you are blaming a situation on advertisers when it is a physical problem that is gradually being addressed. If a company wilfully misleads you by promising something it does not deliver, then they need taking to task. But if you just can’t yet get what you’d like, that’s a different matter.

Advertisers should be legally obliged to state the range of speeds they can supply, from the slowest to the fastest, so that shoppers will be alerted to the reality and prompted to inquire how fast their particular connection will be. Perhaps the price should be tailored to the actual speed delivered, too. That would incentivise the ICT companies to improve their infrastructure.

I have formally asked my MP to take matters up
as to broadband speeds.. at a dismal 1.4 Mbps on
download AND a miserable 0.4 Mbps on upload in
a recent test, all in a (reasonably prosperous?) suburb
of west London.

The requirement of a reasonable broadband speed is
fully attainable in this age as is the UNwarranted imposition of a fettered
binding contract that he has been instructed to take up
as well. I shd NOT expect to have to pay more to achieve
a faster speed.

A chum sent recently as to broadband Mbps speeds in:
Singapore 61, Thailand 17.5 and Malaysia 5.1
averaging… it is believed South Korea is probably the fastest
at 85 or much higher.

Ben says:
23 May 2014

Yes. But there are probably less people using Internet there so will be faster. Im sort of assuming that there are more people living in London than in South Korea.

Mark says:
23 June 2014

I dont understand why more people paying for a service in close proximity means they might expect that service to to be worse rather than better.
Internet slow because we live too close together: internet too slow because we live more remotely. Which is it? Am I to pay for ISPs to have it both ways?

The very first Conversation was about consumers being cheated over broadband speed, and we are still having to complain about the same problem. 🙁

After many complaints, my ISP has dropped the ‘up to’ claim in its advertising and instead provided the range of speeds that can be expected in my postcode area. Why cannot BT and other large companies be honest?

The only thing that will focus the minds of companies whose advertising focuses on misrepresentation is large fines. Let’s put an end to the ‘weasels’.

Tavistock Superfast Broadband says:
21 May 2014

There is a simple solution – people should pay for the speed they get as a proportion of the so called top speed. That of course is being fair and liable to cost providers millions in lost revenue.

Try house hunting in Superfast Cornwall – you will find Fibre Cabinets in the middle of no-where.

Michael Guest says:
21 May 2014

having phoned my internet provider numerous times finally had enough according to recent reports my 20 Mb service regularly would be in the top 50 of the worst broad bands in the country after the first call today my service increased 5 times lost contact with Aol 2nd call service increased to 7 times then service went to that low that a speed test would not work 3rd call because of almost loss of service they are sending an engineer that may be chargeable what ever does the phrase “Unfit for Purpose” Re the sale of Goods act 1974 mean to these people or Does it not apply and Why Noy

Fully agree that more should be done to provided a universal minimum broadband connection .
However the cost of providing broadband services is not related to the speed obtained , most of it is fixed overheads and a small proportion relates to the amount of bandwidth ( data down and uploaded) used.
As distance from the exchange and availability of fibre or cable are what affect speeds most , a fast or slow broadband connection is just a feature of your address.
The quality of many services, for which we all pay the same for through taxes, rates, council tax etc , are very variable and depend on where you live but there is no big campaign “to pay for what we get” with these.

I hope most people have some understanding of the practical issues that limit the speed of their broadband, but the ISPs should not be making false claims. We desperately need honesty in advertising.

Michael Guest says:
21 May 2014

170 metres from the exchange in a main town in the Midlands should not be a rubbish service area so sorry when you pay a supplier for a line as well as a service and the problem has been basically fobbed off for years then they want to charge you for a service call that takes the biscuit ( I had other things to worry about for a long while other than broadband)

Antony says:
23 May 2014

We live next door to the telephone exchange. Their excuse is that we are copper direct to the exchange and cannot therefore be readily upgraded. A piece of wet string over the wall might be better than our current speeds!

Gordon Bingham says:
24 May 2014

A knowledge friend transferred me from TalkTalk to PlusNet and their Helpline showed immediately as my BBspeed was as low as 0.1 at times. They got a BT engineer round within days and he set the speed at 2.4 but it soon dropped out. PlusNet then got engineers 2 & 3 very quickly but the red internet light appeared soon after they left. I had supplied many speed test readings and am on an IP area, very much in the sticks. No. 4 arrived, Mark, and within a short time he explained the problem to me [aged 91] in understandable terms, namely, if you try to set at the meters highest reading it will never keep to that ie. 1.9 to 2.4 so he reduced the setting where experience told him what was sustainable, 1.4 with a steady needle.. I have had many pleasant weeks with only one red internet light, easily resettable. Sounds as if retraining would help!

Back to the “weasels”. Without knowing your location, an advertisement can do little more than quote an “up to” speed. As my ISP points out, once you then start the sign-up process and they have your personal details, given a phone number they can, and do, give you a more accurate estimate of the speed you can expect. This seems perfectly reasonable to me.
This conversation seems to be about three separate issues – whether you are misled by your potential broadband provider’s advertising (I have no difficulty understanding what “up-to” means), whether you are subsequently informed of your estimated speed when applying (I was – are others not?) and whether we’d all like faster broadband (of course we would – whether we also want to pay more for it is another matter). But branding everyone as “weasels” is neither fair, nor I believe the right way for Which? to behave. Sorry.

I use a local company as an ISP. Anyone can simply type in their postcode and find out the predicted speed for that postcode area, together with the minimum and maximum speed to be expected. For my postcode, the average is 9Mbps and the minimum and maximum speed range is from 6.5 and 9Mbps. I normally get between 7 and 7.5Mbps these days and there is very little difference with time of day.

I am very happy with the how my ISP markets its broadband service. Unfortunately, they used to be ‘weasels’, advertising the ‘up to 24Mbps’ speed that few, if anyone, can achieve. Some of its customers, including me, told them in no uncertain terms that misleading advertising is not acceptable.

If a small ISP can be honest, then why do BT and other large ISPs still misrepresent their service. I fully support Which? and hope that we can win this important battle for consumers.

I am happy to condemn ISPs that advertise a speed that they cannot in practice offer to anyone. It would be best if Which? published names of these providers. The introduction does not, however, say this is the case – it simply maligns those who write an ad with an “upto” speed, which seems misplaced if they subsequently give you a personal estimate when you start to sign up.Let us see the evidence for misrepresentation then we can sign a petition knowing the facts. Which?, would you clarify your accusation please?

Why should you need to start to sign up before you can get an estimate of the broadband speed? As I have explained, all that is needed is a postcode.

I would like to see ‘up to’ removed from all advertising.

Of course you can check your own likely speed, but this conversation is about ISPs giving you reliable or misleading information. A way a chosen potential ISP can be held to account is if they have given you an estimate, and that proves to be unachievable; they can’t give you an estimate unless you approach them. You don’t have to sign up to them if you don’t want to. “Up to” is what they can achieve for some (a different matter if they can’t) – I have no problem understanding what it means, nor why it is used.

My ISP points out that a postcode or address does not give a reliable estimate; a phone number is required for the best estimate.

I would like to know that my phone number was not to be used for marketing, but apart from that I would be happy to provide it. But there is no need for anyone to start the sign-up process to provide an estimate of broadband speed.

But if, as the conversation implies, you want to blame an ISP when you can’t get near the speed they estimate, then you’ll have to approach them in the first place to get a speed estimate. That is all I am getting at. And if you don’t provide a phone number then it seems you’re unlikely to get a reliable estimate, so you’re in a catch 22.

Malcolm – I am simply supporting what Peter has said in his introduction, and the recurring theme in the Conversations. Most people object to terms such as ‘up to 24 Mbps’. We don’t need to know the maximum speed we can achieve, and it would be far more useful to know the minimum speed that we could achieve (assuming that there is nothing wrong with internal wiring etc.).

It’s like fuel economy of cars. I object to being given figures that are unlikely to be achieved by most people.

Marketing seems to be largely based on making products and services seem better than they are. This has got to stop.

Mark says:
23 June 2014

LOL! Sunday Mirror exposes…
I think the ISPs will survive this horrific defamation….It’s weasels and their fanciers I fear for.

Ive consistently found my ISPs to be a bunch of perfidious and wholly falsehearted chancers. OK theyve had a techie aspect to parts of their business, but the interface Ive know has largely been a den of distance selling liars who will say anything they can get away with to do as little as possible (hopefully catching you at the exact right moment to poach you from a competitor and start raking it in for nothing more than a deceitfully chipper-sounding phone call). I really have hear A LOT of very different excuses over the years for the same problem. I dont think Ive ever heard exactly the same explanation for their failings twice. It’s total theatre: I imagine them sitting in a vast call centre with a giant “Excuse of the day” sign at the head of it, with a new, ingenious and unfailingly sincere-sounding plea written anew underneath with each new dawn. Its not that any one statement Ive been given was clearly false, it’s the way that over time these statements have been subtley contradictory, wooley, Barnum-esque and overly-innocent sounding. Like confronting a gang of naughty children whove planned their alibis well, and letting them get going with their excuses while you sit back and listen as their vague stories hilariously add up less and less until their expose themselves completely. What I find most unforgiveable about it all is the manipulation of people’s good will. The boyscoutishly girlguidesque feigned eagerness to please – “please bear with us – please hold on while I ask my superviser… if Im allowed out to play today”…And once you waste hours of your life going around and around in their wheels, trying to see past their thin but ever-shifting veil of deceptions, you can finally get them in a corner with their own words, repeat back to them all the things their colleagues told you that now very clearly no longer look anything like adding up, there it comes: the wall. They realise the syrup wore off and the freezing reality becomes apparent, that theyre not going to help you more than the bare minimum they have to by law ( a compliance they dress up as their shimmering integrity, naturally), and if youre not going to be fobbed off any more or sweettalked with deals then theyre not interested. You can go elsewhere.
Money has nothing to do with it. Ive offered my ISPs whatever they want ON THE CONDITION THAT THEY GUARANTEE specific results. But they wont. They offer those graded tarriffs to tantalise people in to fixed contracts with “up to” “were doing our best” airy-fairy nonsense promises. They just want us yoked into contactual serfdom while they milk us of our money and keep us sweet. If they meant any of it, theyd make guaranteed, real performance-measurable promises and honour and uphold them….just as in any reasonable transaction.

Its worth remembering that in general your max speed is determined by your connection method to the exchange i.e. copper or fibre.
The ISP you use makes no difference.
Your ISP choice may affect your peak time speed and how well they deal with faults .

Gordon Bingham says:
25 May 2014

My E mail of yesterday did not give the vital BT engineers explanation which included the words ‘my profile’, referring to the meter reading. GB.

stevelw says:
26 May 2014

Does anyone know what proportion of broadband users are dependent upon BT’s network of exchanges, underground cables, or overhead telephone wires? I suspect it is very high. Based upon my experience over the past 2 years, I suspect that the quality of BT’s monitoring, maintenance and operation of their systems is the culprit in many cases. I would like Which? look into BT’s performance in this area BEFORE trying to negotiate a deal on behalf of a large number of users. Many ISPs are dependent upon BT’s network and an inefficient system will affect their customers whoever wins a deal. (I changed my ISP after experiencing continuing problems which they could not solve. I moved to BT only to find that it was no better – until they found a fault on equipment supplying telephone/BB services to many users in the area).
Also, I recommend users check their speeds using BT’s site: //speedtest.btwholesale.com and, on completion use the link to Further Diagnostics which I understand ends up in BT’s records. Useful if you are complaining about slow speeds, etc..

philip says:
28 May 2014

My broadband problems started when Talk Talk aquired AOL. Up to that point my speed had been not great, but acceptable.
During 2014 my speed dropped so much that it ended up at 0.1mbs. I had AOLengineers around to try and fix the problem, who informed me that It was all down to BT and how they connected you. Even the BT. engineer could not get me increased speed. Reluctantly,I decided to sign up with BT and amazingly my speed immediatelly went up to 6.5mbs. All this at 60% less than AOL were charging Just hope it lasts
Surprisingly I found I could keep my original address and use all AOL services just as before. Getting AOL accounts of my back was another matter.

Linda says:
28 May 2014

Plusnet: I went with Plusnet as a Which Best Buy and it worked fine at my last address. Then I moved about 7 miles down the road and checked with Plusnet if they provided in that area and whether the speeds were equivalent to the ones I had been getting. They said yes and finally installed Plusnet in my new house. From the beginning the speeds were much slower and then the line kept dropping and an angry red light kept flashing on the router. I phoned Plusnet, and after holding for sometimes up to half an hour, was told to switch off the router, unplug everything and then switch it on again and all should be fine. It wasn’t. So after that, and many phone calls (with lengthy waiting times) all I did was switch off and on the router. The speeds (if you can call it a speed at all) were now totally pathetic and I couldn’t even open simple web pages. I phoned again (hung on for 20 mins) and was told that I never should switch off the router as the line thinks there’s a fault on it and then slows everything down and in the end they said I would have no broadband. We were asked to take the fitting on the wall apart, plug things into other sockets etc and leave it a while etc and see what happened. Well, nothing happened. So they then sent a new router – but to my old address (I’ve been in my new address for over 6 months). After waiting for over 10 days it finally arrived, was plugged in, and hey presto, another angry red flashing light and my new speed of 0.1Mbps is confirmed. I phoned again and was told that a BT engineer would come out. He said there was nothing wrong with the line. I phoned Plusnet again and they said that frankly I “would never get better speeds than 0.3 or 0.4 Mbps as there was a lot of copper between my house and the exchange in Fleet” and that my only option would be to go to fibre. I said that I felt I’d been misled with the promise of decent speeds and they finally said that there would never be decent ADSL speeds in my area. I asked if they would offer me a discounted fibre package considering my six months of battling with speeds – but what they did was refund me one month’s ADSL at £9.99 and say that I really should be going with fibre. So I’ve signed up with their fibre which is £10 more per month than ADSL. Is it possible that the copper wiring, which the engineer said “went all around the houses before reaching the exchange” could have caused my terrible speeds and line cut-outs? Should I not have been told right at the beginning that ADSL just isn’t feasible in my new area?

John says:
28 May 2014

I was with TalkTalk and when the Littleborough exchange was upgraded my speed went up to about 8. My speed started to drop and was at 2.4 and so after reading Which? I decided to move to Utility Warehouse and the speed is now between 8 & 9. I am now using the uswitch speed tester to send me emails of the results so that if it drops, I have evidence of what it used to be. A problem with uswitch comparison site is that is does not separate fibre results from ADSL so it is hard to compare providers.

Michael says:
30 May 2014

Latest update complained to my Supplier again,mysteriously they could find no problem on my line network went from 2.8 M to 7 M not great as offered up to 20 M when offered new deal after asking to move companies as basically was as a long term customer being ripped off but spent 12 years as a carer and full time shift worker so was lucky to turn computer on some weeks.Not paying attention was moving to a company that owned the company I was with but was then contacted by my current supplier with a deal where I paid a third of what I was paying with all sorts of additions thrown in.
sorry to ramble But the deal was offered as 20 M when the supplier knew that at the time the circuit would only support 8 M so was offering something that it could not supply much like selling a Ferrarri knowing it’s got a Ford engine There was a Slight improvement to a possible 13M but a friends son in the Business did some tests and found I was only getting 2M . So complained went up to 7 M went on holiday returned down to 3 M contacted supplier no fault found up again to 8 M 2 weeks down to 1.8 M. Back to supplier Up to 10 M no fault found lasted 30 mins lost service for 2 days.Back to supplier 3 phone calls different person each time as getting cut off and no return calls I asked to speak to a supervisor after he agreed to a service call (chargeable kept on quoting Terms & conditions) I mentioned fit for purpose right or not ,My supply suddenly increased to 10 M and stayed there. The engineer arrived on the only day I could not be here but was given access by a friend said the system was giving 14 M ,the companies own website said I could only expect 13.4 M and there was nothing He could do. So currently at12.8 Bliss compared to something that would not support catchup tv on a pad BUT weird that only improved after complaints then drops off again when job closed. So get on to your supplier if you are being overcharged look about moving you will be surprised what they sometimes offer to keep you (Told an old mate in Wales now on better service at half previous cost) These companies along with Banks Energy Companies and any others rely on inertia people putting up with overcharging and shoddy service because as Brit’s we always have but look at the news reports of the fines imposed on some of the companies now ( Can someone please look at Bonuses for Management that are reliant on company profits I think that The Fraud Act maybe Section 2 Gaining Pecuniary Advantage by Deception could be a good starting point a few CEO’s in the dock would be a wake up call to many companies or are the CPS afraid)

Which? have recently arranged a deal for members for broadband – with TalkTalk. A bit of a surprise this. A Which? review said:
“Too many connection speed complaints, poor ease-of-setup, mediocre service and support. Verdict – TalkTalk promises some good-value bundles, but connection speeds and service need to be better across the board.”
In addition the “bundle” does not include phone calls – which will work out quite costly.
The deal also has half-price boadband for the first 12 months. I hate these sort of offers- they seem prevalent in broadband. Just something else we have to remember to change when the 12 months is up – like bank savings accounts used to be, but now remedied.
What is going on Which? Should you not be using a Best Buy or at least one without too many negatives?

John says:
10 June 2014

I too have my concerns about this offer. I did not realise that it was for only 12 months. On the phone calls, when you start to order, you add in free calls, calls to mobiles etc for a fixed price so you can manage the costs.

My main concern is Talktalk’s speed locally. I left them when the speed dropped to 2.3. On the new offer they say it will be between about 8 and 13. I have 9.1 from Utility Warehouse with the same equipment on the same line to the exchange. I do not want to risk going back to low speeds.

Michael says:
12 June 2014

it’s rained Broadband speed back down to 2.5 M yet they say there is nothing wrong liveable service lasted 10 days .Here we go again

Michael says:
13 June 2014

the offer I am on was for unlimited up to 20 M this was AOL stopping me going to Talk Talk the line will not support 20 will only support 13 from the start of the new contract the download speeds where worse than the original every time there is a weather change the service gets worse every time I complain it gets better weird but even though AOl are responsible for the Line they are not bothered if you can get fibre optic even though some areas are pretty much owned by one supplier rural sorry users know it sucks

I was also surprised that Talk Talk was the recommended special deal negotiated by Which, after their previous reports had placed them consistently low in the customer satisfaction ratings. Price isn’t everything: we ditched AOL and moved to Virginmedia: more expensive, but great speeds and very few hiccups in the 2 years we’ve used them.

Hi all, thanks for your comments about our Broadband Switch. You’re right that TalkTalk scored 55% in our latest customer satisfaction survey. We approached all broadband providers to negotiate a deal for the Which? Broadband Switch. Not all providers were able to offer a deal at this time. But we do think that TalkTalk’s offer provides good value.

However, it may not be the best deal for everyone. It would be a good idea to read the full T&Cs of the offer, and to shop around with other providers to see if they’d be better suited for you.
We were able to ensure that the half-price offer was available for the full 12 months of the contract when you’ll be free to move on. I hope that helps answer your questions. There are more FAQ’s here: http://whichbroadbandswitch.co.uk/

Paul says:
28 June 2014

Dissalousioned with new “super fast” internet broadband installed to BT’s standards by there own engineer. Carried out some research prior to installation and with BT’s speed check was promised
17 to 26 mb due to my location from fibre box and copper pair to house.
Well what is realiity 3.9 mb download and .9 upload.
What is BT,s initial response “leave it for 5 days while the connection stabilises”
Sounds like a delaying tactic to me?
Have a feeling I may have a long battle ahead with a major corporate, or maybe I am being cynical?

Has anyone had similair issues?
What was successful for you?

Anni says:
6 August 2014

With regards to speed and security of one’s broadband.. Since I upgraded the security on the my pc…the whole experience of surfing has been reduced to snail pace ;o( I keep moving to newer and smaller companies