/ Technology

My broadband problems brought me down loads

Sad smiley key on computer keyboard

Last month I spent more time speaking to my broadband provider’s helpline than my family. I couldn’t resist telling this to the customer service support staff, and got a sympathetic laugh from the end of the line.

I don’t know what it is about being stuck on the phone trying to sort out technical problems, but I seem to turn into my dad. I can’t control it. It just happens.

Between coming up with awful dad jokes, such as the title for this piece, I was getting more and more frustrated. I’d spent three weeks with speeds under 2Mbps (I should have been getting much faster) and at some points I had no broadband at all.

I snapped. I started doing daily broadband speed tests and became one of those people who just spoke about their internet woes. Working on Which?’s Broadband Speed Guaranteed campaign was an excellent channel for this frustration, but I was no fun at parties.

I’m not alone in my frustration. Our latest broadband satisfaction survey reveals that the biggest providers are letting their customers down. BT, Sky and TalkTalk came bottom of the pile, with smaller providers like John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet and Zen Internet topping the tablet.

Give us broadband speed guaranteed

We also asked customers about their satisfaction with broadband speeds, and most of the providers received a score of three stars or less.

This ups the ante for our Broadband Speed Guaranteed campaign. Not only are we campaigning for providers to improve their service, we want customers to get the speeds they’re promised when they sign up.

At the moment broadband providers are allowed to advertise speeds that only 10% of their customers actually get. That’s why we’re reiterating our call to the advertising watchdogs, The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and The Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), to tighten the rules so that advertised broadband speeds more closely match customers’ real experiences. Our executive director Richard Lloyd said today:

‘We’ve told the advertising watchdogs that companies need to be much clearer with their customers about the speeds they can expect. However, three months on, we’re still waiting for them to announce how they’ll ensure adverts only show the speeds most customers actually receive.’

I’m back online

In case you’re wondering, after four callouts my broadband is now back up and running. I was so happy I could have hugged my technician, Winston. (I did.)

Is your broadband service bringing you down loads? We want to hear about it.


Zoe, I see that you give a link above to Which’s speed tester. I have compared Which’s speed tester against several other speed testers on many different days at various times of the day, and it consistently gives a falsely low result that is a small fraction of the speed indicated by other speed testers. I have reported this to Which, but your speed tester is operated by a third party who has done nothing yet to fix this.

I find that the most reliable speed tester is speedtest.net, specifically its Vorboss server in London or its Gigaclear server in Slough.

Whereas speedtest.net shows that my connection is around 880-900Mbps both downstream and upstream and other speed testers give similar results, the Which speed tester always falsely shows that my download speed is only around 100Mbps and my upload speed is only around 200Mbps. These are not small fluctuations but consistent large differences. It is also worth noting that while my ping time to speedtest.net’s UK servers is around 1ms to 2ms, Which’s speed tester shows a ping time of between 21ms and 64ms, which suggests that it is hosted in a high latency environment.

I hope that Which pushes its supplier to sort out these misleading results, particularly as many Which members might consequently falsely accuse their ISPs of slow speeds when in fact it is Which’s speed tester which is at fault.

NFH, I’ve just tried two speed tests, at a time when UK internet use is presumably low – around midnight. On this occasion, the Which? speed test showed a slightly higher speed than speedtest.net – 19.69 versus 18.27 Mbps. But I agree that you just can’t reliably deduce anything from a single speed test, as it could be the server at the other end that’s slow. By the way, do you really mean 880-900 Mbps? That’s nearly Gigabit Ethernet speed – the kind of speed that you’d get transferring files between two PCs sitting side-by-side on your desk linked by a high-speed Ethernet cable.

Hi NFH, thanks for raising this matter about the broadband speed tool on Which.co.uk again.

I can confirm that each speed test has slightly different technology and algorithms. Also, it is very difficult to compare one test to another as you cannot run two speed tests at the same time, and if you run them one after another they may produce different results because network conditions have changed (packets flowing via different routes, different congestion, etc.). The internet is a dynamic environment and all the variables change very frequently. On some connections those fluctuations are very small, so if a user runs the speed test ten times, the variations between the tests will be very low, on some other systems the variations will be higher.

Our test works by trying to maximize the connection throughput by downloading files in parallel. The test at the end then discards the percentage of highest numbers that may be caused by some packets arriving in similar timeframe and therefore artificially showing-up a very short burst of high speed. These millisecond timeframes where speed is very high must be eliminated so we can conclude the maximum throughput accurately.

Since we launched the speed test, we’ve received lots of feedback from users. Some say the speed is high, some say the speed is low. Some feedback was valid and we have used it to make our algorithm better. We examine user reports if they are showing consistently different than expected results by a higher margin of error than 10%.

Of course, I’ll definitely share your comments with the relevant teams here at Which?. 🙂

Clint – Yes, I do mean 880-900Mbps. Here are some recent speed test results at home:


Unfortunately the Which speed tester doesn’t support linking to a previous speed test, so I can’t show a comparison.

I pay £40/month for this quality of broadband.

Andrew – As I said previously, I’m not talking about fluctuations but a consistent large difference between the result given by Which and the results given by other speed testers.

You say that you “examine user reports if they are showing consistently different than expected results by a higher margin of error than 10%“. The difference in my case is consistently 80% to 90%, never as little as 10%. In fact, Which’s speed tester never shows a download speed of more than around 150Mbps or an upload speed of around 200Mbps, whereas other speed testers show 800Mbps to 900Mbps.

That’s quite impressive, NFH, I didn’t realise you could get gigabit Internet speeds at prices not much higher than a typical Virgin cable line. I suspect on this occasion you may have reached the a limitation in Which’s test client software or servers. For example, if the client software uses an interpreted language, such as Javascript or Flash, it may itself become the bottleneck at your sort of internet speeds.

Clint – I understand your point about the software potentially being used, but the high latency suggests that there is some network-related issue. In any case, speedtest.net uses Flash and still shows the full bandwidth.

My download speed is in the range of 7-8 Mbps with both speedtest.net and the Which? speed checker. Both these are scaled up to 100 Mbps, which indicates that this is the intended range of the tests. I would not expect that figures above 100 Mbps would be inaccurate.

We should focus the effort on those – like Zoe in the introduction – who are achieving a slow and/or unreliable service.

George Osborne has just announced a plan is to make 100Mbps broadband available to the whole country.

He is not going to impress those of us who would like 10 Mbps broadband.

I think this is an excellent plan. The UK should be like South Korea in this respect, where speeds of a gigabit and higher are common. It would make the UK an attractive place for businesses to locate themselves, and not just technology businesses.

In the same way that many home buyers now choose an area based on broadband speeds, many international businesses will start the take the same approach with entire countries. Even if we can’t be the fastest in the world, let’s at least be the fastest in Europe.

Our esteemed Chancellor didn’t say the 100Mbps would be at the same price as the “upto eight” most people are burdened with [and still not getting]. I can’t believe the higher speed won’t be charged at a prohibitive price for most people, even where there is already fibre to the house. We get 5-10 Mbps mostly which is OK for our needs but it would be good to have a guaranteed minimum of 10 to provide greater consistency and overall reliability.

I suspect he’ll be about as successful as George Brown was. What’s needed is to nationalise Openreach. The nationalised ‘phone service gave us national coverage, the privatised services have failed miserably.

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Duncan – the ISP is Hyperoptic. It is run by the same people who in 2004 set up Be Un Limited, an excellent Which best buy ISP, before they sold it in 2006 to O2 who subsequently sold it in 2013 to Sky. Hyperoptic serves around 100 blocks of flats, mostly in London, with fibre into a hub in each building, and then CAT5 cable to each flat. I just have a simple RJ45 socket on the wall – no need for special hardware. Surprisingly only 1 in 6 flats in my building have chosen to take it.

The most impressive scenario is when Apple releases an iOS update; these are usually around 2GB. It takes under 30 seconds to download via iTunes on my laptop.

You make some valid comments about Flash. I use an add-on for Firefox called Flashblock. This blocks Flash except for sites that are on my whitelist (e.g. Youtube, BBC News etc). I can manually choose to run Flash on sites that are not on my whitelist.

John says:
19 March 2015

I am just flabbergasted with some of these speeds mentioned. A couple of months after upgrading to BT Infiinity when it became available here, I too have spent hours on the phone trying to sort out poor speed.

Admittedly we were below 2mbps with the old BT service so things improved when we had 8mbps to 11mbps. But after agreeing to have an engineer check out our system (at our cost if he’d found a fault in our wiring) Openreach replaced a connection on BT’s wiring and have advised us that the steady 12mbps is probably a realistic expectation for the >1km we are from the junction box.

It still grates when I see BT selling 16-22mbps on their flyers and our Council’s local broadband project writing about speeds of 80mbps. Then I see mention of speeds 10 times that and it blows me away!

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Duncan – you make some interesting points about distances to the cabinet. At my previous home, the green cabinet was close to the exchange, but I was over a mile from the exchange. Therefore most of the distance was between the green cabinet and me, rather than between the exchange and the green cabinet. When I experienced a fault once which needed to be repaired in the green cabinet, a BT engineer confirmed my belief that FTTC would consequently make almost no difference to my speeds. The country needs FTTP, not FTTC. We need to eliminate the archaic copper cables and replace them with fibre for the whole distance.

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Colin Vaughan says:
31 March 2015

Well I feel very sorry for those people who get poor speeds. I am on BT Infinity, and get 55Mbps download and 10Mps upload. How come? Well for a start off I am on a Desktop PC., Ethernet cabled via the Home Hub to the Router via the TV, which makes using ‘catch-up’ TV a doddle. Can download an hour long HDTV Programme in about 15 minutes. My distance to my Local Cabinet is around 0.5KM so that helps. Indeed when I was on ADSL I was getting a download of 10/12 Mbps which I note is what some correspondents are getting with Fibre ! Mine goes in a downward direction if there is a period of heavy usage. However all this makes me realise that the Publicity Departments of ISPs are living in a dream world of their own. Individual circumstances are so variable that to offer any sort of generalisation as to Broadband speed is asking for trouble. Mind you if I use a Tablet with a 9 inch brick wall on WI FI between me and the Home Hub it nearly halves the speed. Some people don’t seem to realise that will happen if they do it all that way. Virgin Media of course has their own network, which is Superfast, but it doesn’t cover even the whole of London. Any extension to that in London is doubtful because of cost, and the disruption it caused some years ago. As for Branson’s Media in Rural areas, dream on.

Winston says:
13 May 2015

What an excellent article! My broadband speed is also bringing me down loads! Ha ha ha!


In July, I experienced a major fault with my line affecting broadband and my phone. BT help centre (based in India) kept assuring me for a whole week that their systems could not detect any fault and that all was well. Eventually, I insisted that they ring me at my home number, which surprise, surprise, they couldn’t. An Openreach engineer was booked to look into the problem – a week later and found a fault in the new cabinet installed for fibre optic.

I was assured that all was fixed and at the same time I upgraded to fibre (including BT TV). From day 1, I was experiencing problems, internet cutting out, appalling picture quality on BT TV’s internet channels, but was told that I needed to allow the system to settle down. Two weeks later, started a twice weekly telephone call (to India) regarding what I believed to be a continuation of the original fault, but BT’s insistence that it was the settings in my hub, BT TV, location of my hub or other interference from appliances in my house. Each call would last a good two hours (time wasted and lost) and no improvement at all.

Eventually after two months, an email to the CEO initiated a call from a UK department who sent Openreach to my house to check everything. Whilst they agreed that there was ‘something’ not right between the exchange and my house, they were unable to locate and fix the fault. I am currently in the process of changing providers and if the problem continues, hopefully, they will be more proactive in wanting to sort out the problem

Lorna Swindell says:
21 November 2015

In May of this year I phoned BT who is our internet provider to order infinity. We have had lots of problems with our broadband dropping and slow speeds so I thought infinity might solve the problem. I was informed they could give us infinity and was told they would need to phone me back to arrange an appointment for an engineer. I finally get a call back saying they could come beginning of July, we were going on holiday then so arranged for them to come after we got back.
First engineer comes thinking he is there to fix the telephone line I explain to him he is there to fit infinity. He didn’t seem happy but off he went to the exchange. A little while later he returns and tells e there is a problem he can’t get a ping from my house to the exchange. know why and didn’t have time to work it out. Next day another engineer turns up to fix my telephone line again I explain it is infinity not the telephone line. He disappears up to the exchange, finally he comes back to tell me our house isn’t connected to the cabinet that is outside the exchange and connected directly to the e change itself. He leaves telling me they need other engineers to come out and fix the problem. That afternoon a third engineer turns up to tell me the e act same thing as the first guy.
After spending a few phone calls to BT about this I am eventually told we can’t get infinity because ope reach won’t fix the problem. No explanation why.
A few months go by I have to phone BT again because our internet was dropping off almost every 5 minutes. While on the phone I enquire if we can get infinity yet. I get put through to the sales team. I explain exactly what has happened already the sale an assures me we can get infinity and the problem had been fixed. So an engineer appointment was fixed unfortunately the day they were doing the work my husband and I weren’t there. They didn’t need access to the house do it was fine. I get two texts telling me our broadband was up and running. My son arrives home from school and phones me to tell my broadband isn’t working. So I thought we will wait in case it is just a delay in the service starting. So next day I phone BT to try find out what is going on. They told me they would find out and phone back. Another engineer appointment was set up. This guy tells me the same thing as the guys in the summer did. We still weren’t connected to the cabinet. A few more phone calls being told engineers were working on it. We are still without broadband and it has now been almost 3 weeks. We have been given a date of the 25th of November for the problem to be resolved but seeing as this date has constantly been moved I am not holding my breath. But I am still paying for my non existent broadband.
I have found the case worker rude, and curt, phoning me at 6pm to give me an update. She doesn’t want to listen to what I have to say and told me that we weren’t going to talk about compensation at the moment even though I hadn’t mentioned it. I haven’t had a phone call in over a week and a half now. No update, no communication. I am expected to contact them I am guessing, I am the customer they seem to have forgotten that. If I could change provider I would but we don’t get Virgin up here and seeing as the rest have to deal with Openreach I don’t see the point I don’t understand why they couldn’t connect us back up to the normal broadband till they sort the problem out. We have had to buy a wifi box and contract from a mobile phone company so my son can connect to the internet to do his school homework. I am very frustrated with the whole process.

Yes, you are expected to keep ‘phoning them, their computer system marks your problem as solved if you don’t bother them within 14 days. Oddly the ombudsman thinks this is all right and that having to keep bothering BT is what all normal people would do.

One other thing. You are not the customer, you are the money supply, the shareholders are the customers…

4 appointments to install broadband eventually resulted in it working!!!
Excuses were we do not that they did not need to come to my property (maybe tyelling me this would help!!), the work today can be done from the exchange! This happened twice.

This is after the email saying make sure you are in and have met all the points stipulted!!!

I had a running text commentry with India who told me from 8am until 1pm that an engineer was coming and did never trun up!

I eventually went higher and higher and got a result in reduction in my bill and some compensation. Enen though contractually the have to do virtually nothing. Anyway the person I did talk to was very good and did understand the ussie and did try to resolve it to my satisfaction. However it shhould not happen.

Well it took BT Openreach 93 days to provide us a line which already existed! See here for the whole saga: https://community.bt.com/t5/Phones/Totally-unacceptable-service/td-p/1207575/page/3

BT Openreach should be ashamed of themselves.

I am having a small building extension at the front of my house and it meant disturbing the BT line into my property. I contacted Open Reach and asked them to arrange for an engineer to move the cable about 3 metres to provide me with Internet/Phone and Broadband. I was instructed to pay £199 for the service and 2 weeks later an engineer visited. He told me that was only surveying the task and would submit his findings and would then be subsequently tasked to return and complete the work. A week later I received a letter from Open Reach advising me that I would need to pay a staggering £933.04! I have since spoken to a local tradesman who will carry out the work this week. I was stunned to see the sums involved and intend to ask for a refund of the initial £199 as I do not feel even this sum was justified, never mind the second extortionate figure!

Openreach’s plan to keep us updated by text seems to assume we all have mobiles. I haven’t, but my home ‘phone is a text ‘phone. So when they decide they need access to the property what do they do? They text me. Unfortunately the reason my internet is down is that my telephone line is down, taking the internet with it.

I’m not sure what frightens me the most, the thought that an OR engineer doesn’t realise he’s texting a landline number, or that he does realise, and does it anyway.

Colin says:
24 November 2015

My daughter was offline and without telephone for 4 weeks.Twice Open Reach made appointments that they never kept. It was very stressful as she is disabled and has on her telephone installed a Telecare package which she can call help if in distress. Even after explaining all this my pleas were ignored. I was obliged to take my daughter home for the duration until the line was fixed. Open Reach gives appaling service and there is no redress. The Network should be opened up for other companies to provide a repair service BT affectively has a monopoly and are price fixers as whoever you choose to provide you telephone service with and or ISP BT sets the benchmark price for all other players. Now we see BT involved in take overs of mobile providers the latest EE which will eventual make them potential monopoly players there too. So if you thought you were going to escape the clutches of BT and use a good 4g network to make your phone calls and use the internet and forget BT your hopes are dashed they have us all checkmated from now on. Somebody please challenge this monolith as its returned by the back door to become again the monopoly provider it once was when you could wait years as I did for my first telephone line. Please Which lets have a move from you that lets us all register our protests this need Parliament to act before its too late.

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Alan Taylor says:
25 November 2015

November 10th was the day set to upgrade our broadband to fibre. Not only did the engineer not turn up but our asdl line was disconnected leaving us without any broadband at all. We finally had a text message from our ISP on November 23rd confirming that the installation was complete. What happened in between is contained in a four page journal of endless calls and frustrated conversations.

Casie McDonald Wood says:
1 December 2015

We are a small business, one of five located in a group of former farm buildings in the middle of the Hampshire countryside 1.3k from the nearest BT “tag” pole which is 1.5k from the fibre cabinet in the local village. We were persuaded by our ISP (XLN) to move to “faster” broadband and duly did so. The Openreach engineer who did the installation and tested the speed on installation told us that we would not get more than the 4.5Mbs download speed that he got (we previously had a very stable 6Mbs). The upload speed had gone from 0.08Mbs to 0.8Mbs which was actually more important to us as it meant that Skype and other applications that require decent upload and download speeds were working better. However, we then discovered that our broadband dropped to 1Mbs or less and sometimes disappeared altogether at “peak” times. Apparently there is only one small cabinet in the local village and everyone, business and residential, is connected to it. The result is that business customers who pay at least double what residential customers pay, are not getting any service once the residential customers start using their broadband in the evenings and at weekends. BT Openreach should be installing double cabinets to separate out residential and business customers. We have been paying for a service that quite frankly is not worth paying for but it is not the fault of the ISPs as they genuinely appear to believe that they are buying a business service from BT Openreach. There is no way that Openreach can claim to be “just part of BT Group” and independent of BT if they do not have the overall decision making on spending and staffing.

Keith Charsley says:
1 December 2015

I currently have a phone and internet package with TalkTalk. On the 17th October I reported that the line did not work to them. A BT Openreach engineer arrived early on the 19th October and diagnosed the fault immediately to be the line into the house. I was informed that someone would need to come and mark the ground where they would have to dig, that someone else would then come and dig the hole, followed by an engineer to fix the line, then someone else would come and fill the hole in. “It all makes work for the working man to do”. Someone did indeed come the following day, 18th, and mark the ground. He told me that although the ground would not be dug that day it should be done by the end of the week and that once dug the line would be repaired within 3 days as they could only leave the hole open that long. After a week of no action I rang TalkTalk for an update, the only available number going through to their offshore call centre. There followed two weeks of daily calls which consisted of “We need to contact BT Openreach for an update and will call you back in about half an hour”. Needless to say there were no returned calls, hence the daily calls to them. At one point I was told that BT Openreach had yet to obtain permission to dig, some three weeks after marking the ground! After suggesting that this was ridiculous and that they should re-contact BT OPenreach I was promised the mythical call back. I called back four hours later to be told this time that the contractors had come three days previously but were unable to dig the ground as there was a van parked obscuring the site, an interesting excuse as the site to dig is next to a footpath at the front of my property where the nearest road is over 100 yards away. I was told that the case would be reviewed on the 26th November! When I said that this was unacceptable they said that they had escalated the case already. After another week of this ongoing farce, which included the new excuse that the fault was not restricted to me but a general area fault, which was interesting as enquiries of my neighbours returned that I was the only person with a problem and that their phone lines were fully functioning, I contacted my local councillor who although unable to help passed the matter on to my local MPs office who contacted TalkTalk. This resulted in the first contact from TalkTalk which was an email to my personal email address which I just so happened to be able to access from work. I suggested that they contact me on my mobile number which I had had to use since losing the line. Again the said that nothing could be done before it was reviewed on the 26th November. Again I reiterated that this was unacceptable. In the interim after the first two weeks I had written formally to TalkTalk, with no acknowledgement or reply. The person that contacted me said that my case had only just been escalated to them as a result of the contact from my MPs office, and denied receipt of the letter. The only difference now was that I had a number which connected me to someone in England and not offshore, and with a bit of pressure managed to actually call me back if later than promised. Eventually the contact said that she now had the letter but could/would not offer an explanation as to why they had not replied. After seven weeks of pushing two men came and finally dug the hole on the 19th of November, almost the 26th! The following morning at 10.00 the original engineer arrived and greeted me with “Hello haven’t they fixed it yet?” The engineer proceeded to fix the line and check it out, commenting that whoever had dug the hole had not been too careful and damaged the line further. Suddenly TalkTalk found the ability to contact me, a couple of hours after the engineer left they rang my mobile to say that the line was fixed. I pointed out that I wanted the hole refilled and the line to still be working before I agreed. Seven weeks to fix a simple fault, not my description but the engineers. TalkTalk claim that it was because the fault was complex. Which is contradicted by the men who came to fill the hole in, who said that the original request was logged and forgotten. Abysmal service from TalkTalk who persistently had to be cajoled for feedback and were content to sit back and do nothing.

Mr Turner in your report got of lightly !!! Last year my broadband service became appalling.
They checked my “internal” set up several times over the following year saying this was ok and confirmed that the fault was a line fault / at the exchange

I won’t bore you with the now too familiar story lots of engineers visits and dozens of phone calls saying its now been fixed.

Yes you guessed it, nothing changed, so he we are a year after we first reported it and the same problems still exist.

11 weeks ago 7th November I wrote to the complaints team 17 days latter I got a phone call full of “very sorry” and ” I completely understand” we will get it fixed, it’s a fault at the exchange.

31st November I was advised it had been moved to level 2 to get priority

Last week I was again told the problem was “at the exchange” and the engineers were now working on it. At the end of the phone call I visited the exchange it was deserted and there were no engineers to be seen in the local area!!!

Today the lady managing my complaint in BT Complaints team rang and said they were going to put it to” level 2″. I asked, its now been 11 weeks since you took control this complaint, when did you first report this problem to the engineers.

Her reply was it had not yet been referred to the engineers !!!! 11 weeks !!! that’s why it was going to level 2

An old friend of mine used to say “its like trying to plait fog” believe you me that must be easier than getting action from BT.

I asked to speak to the complaints team manager and was told he was “on a call” and would ring me tomorrow!

Cheer up it nearly Xmas!

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I joined Plusnet because I was fed up with the customer service at TalkTalk. It took 3 weeks to switch to Plusnet broadband.The first day of the changeover went smoothly and everything worked perfectly. The second day, no broadband and no land line phone. November 17th was the start of the problem and I was not reconnected fully until December 6th. Phoning Plusnet became a daily occurrence. Response to telephone calls varied from 15 to 55 minutes. 4 engineers visited my home during this time (not always on the day or time I was told). All seemed to have a different opinion on the cause of the problem. Eventually the fault was remedied without an engineer’s visit so why did it take so long? I chose Plusnet because they had a good reputation for customer service and they are based in my home city of Sheffield. I discovered,later, that they had been bought out by B.T. ; another example of deteriorating service when a smaller company is taken over by a larger one.

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