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Why advertised broadband speed really does matter

Our new research shows just how important speed is to you when choosing a broadband deal. So why can’t we trust the speeds that are advertised?

A few months ago I moved into a new flat. That first week, surrounded by boxes and sitting on my living room floor, I had a list of priorities I had to get done asap. Put the bed together, get the Billy Bookcase built, buy a curtain rail, that sort of thing.

And top of the list was getting all my utilities and services set up – those essentials we need to get on with modern life. Electricity, check. Water, check. Council tax, check. Rent, check.

And broadband. Check.

Because let’s face it – today, most people in the UK would call internet access an essential. In fact I used mobile data to set up all the other services, because it’s nearly impossible to get it done quickly and efficiently over the phone.

So, how to find a good broadband package?

Broadband speed and price

I looked at a bunch of ads and broadband packages on price comparison websites. I wanted a reasonably fast connection at a reasonable price. And I found one that promised ‘up to 17Mb’ for a standard broadband package for about twenty quid a month, including line rental. Not bad, so I went for that one.

Speed and price were most important to me and our latest research has found this is true for most people. Speed definitely matters. More than two thirds of people we asked ranked it as the first or second most important factor in choosing their deal. That’s ahead of price, brand or contract length.

We also found out that the more that people believed they would get the advertised speed, the more important a factor speed was in their choice.

The problem is that, as things stand, advertisers can make some pretty wild claims about broadband speed. They’re allowed to quote one (tack on the phrase ‘up to’ in front of it) and that’s OK as long as 10% of customers can achieve those speeds.

But it’s not really OK is it? What it means is that you have no real idea if you’ll actually get that advertised speed, or anything close to it, until you actually get a specific quote once you’re already on the phone talking to that provider and well on your way to parting with your money.

Accurate adverts

This is why we’ve been campaigning for more accurate and honest ads from broadband providers, and why we want the Advertising Standards Authority to do more to make broadband companies provide customers with accurate claims upfront in their ads.

We welcome the ASA’s recent announcement that it’s now researching the importance of speed in customer choices of provider, and looking again at how important speed is. Our research shows that speed matters when picking your broadband package.

Now we wait for the ASA to announce its findings at the start of the autumn, and we hope that our research helps them take note and realise more has to be done to make broadband ads more decent, honest, and fair for consumers.

So how about you, how important is broadband speed to you? Do you know if your broadband gets the speed that was advertised to you?

diesltaylor says:
28 July 2016

Nice to have faith in the ASA. BTW who did you go with and what is your BB speed truly?


Isn’t this a repeat of previous Convos? We’ve debated the “up to” issue to death and hopefully the ASA will help resolve it. But with what? 50%? 90% 100% (what about the other 50/10%)?

What exactly do Which? propose as an “honest” declaration of speed when it will vary from consumer to consumer for good reasons.

In practice what matters is what I get – not anyone else, or an “average”. So I should speak to one or more potential providers and find out what the speed estimate is at the entry to my property. If it is no more difficult than that why not publicise it heavily (Which? included)?

What exactly do Which? propose as an “honest” declaration of speed when it will vary from consumer to consumer for good reasons.

From the entry to your home onwards, any loss in speed is down to your installation and equipment.


Hi Malcolm, we’d like to see at least 50% be able to achieve advertised speeds, and for adverts to be clearer in stating that individual speeds will vary and can be confirmed by calling the company. As you say, there are very individual circumstances which can alter the speed you get, so there will always have to be some leeway in the speeds quoted- but that doesn’t mean that leeway should be too wide, or that it makes an accurate estimate of speed hard to get until you’re already well on your way to going with a provider.

As Lauren mentioned below, the Telegraph today ran an article suggesting that change-is-a-comin’. The article says that ‘broadband companies could be forced to advertise average speeds rather than top speeds as part of a major crackdown being planned by advertising watchdogs and called for by consumer groups’, so i hope this signals a major step forward in resolving this.

The full article can be read here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/28/broadband-providers-could-be-forced-to-cut-misleading-speed-clai/


Hi Jack – Please can you explain why Which? is not pushing to get rid of the use of ‘up to’ in advertising? I fully appreciate that broadband speed at the master socket will depend on many factors, but all that’s needed is for customers to look up the estimated speed range for their home.

Imagine eggs being sold in boxes of “up to 12” and finding only four in the box. Thats how I saw it when I used to have an “up to 24Mbps” service and my speed was about 8Mbps. Then my ISP dropped the “up to” nonsense.


Sorry, wavechange, but the up to 12 eggs is not a good analogy. You can easily provide 12 eggs – although they may not all be unbroken, you need to check.

You cannot provide everyone with 24Mbps broadband because the speed an individual will get, as has been dealt with often here, depends upon other factors outside the provider’s direct control. Most people understand “up to” if they want to.

However as I understand it I can get a speed estimate for my home – at the input socket – by asking a potential provider; on copper anyway – not sure about all-fibre. That is what matters to me and, if it is true, that is surely the really helpful information. So why do we not make that a requirement before a contract is agreed? The “up to” simply gives the upper limit for an area.

If I am wrong about getting a personal estimate this way that is meaningful I will withdraw my post to avoid misleading others. That will be up to the moderators, though.


@jmadden, thanks Jack. I’ve replied to the DT article below – it repeats a lot of Which? and I have no respect for the DT’s ability to critically report these days.

What use is a 50% figure? The other 50% who are slower will still moan. Shifting a bad criterion from one figure to another helps no one. The “leeway” as you put it will still be large – some well in excess of the 50% figure, some well below.

You agree, I think, that you can get a fair estimate for your own premises by asking. So why not make this compulsory? Then I’ll know what to expect at my computer (well, inlet box). Fiddling with the “up to” figure becomes fairly pointless.

Why does Which? not publish all the relevant information, rather than just concentrating on one issue? That would be much more helpful to consumers.


Malcolm – If you want to know what the maximum theoretical speed of copper broadband, why not put this in the small print, rather than in a useless ‘up to’ claim. That’s what my ISP does. The predicted speed range is more useful for the average consumer.


I wouldn’t disagree. I think any theoretical speed – for 10%, 50%, average – is pretty pointless and unhelpful for individuals. The likely speed an individual should get is what would matter to me – and most others in my view. If getting that is simple, why not promote it?


Our difference of opinion seems to be whether ‘up to’ is allowed in advertising. As I have said, I have no objection to this being in the small print, though maybe as ‘maximum theoretical speed’. It is actually possible to have honesty in marketing. 🙂


It’s only a small difference of opinion on semantics. Do we agree that being given a personal estimate by potential providers is the useful information we need?

Incidentally, this will have caveats, won’t it? Your own equipment, how busy the internet is for example. It is not straightforward but could be made much less bent.


Of course we agree on this, Malcolm. I have promoted this approach in numerous Convos. My ISP bases the estimate on address but as we have discussed before, it’s even better to use phone number if available.

The speed of my old copper broadband was largely unaffected by time of day, though I realise that this is an exception. I would suggest that an estimated range of speed takes contention into account and is based on what the user can expect for a percentage of the the time. The figure I have in mind is 90% but I don’t know if this could be achieved in practice.


Good. 🙂 But I wonder if Which? will take a practical view of this issue, or pursue it’s present course?


As with tackling the problem of nuisance calls it is a step in the right direction, but it falls short of what is needed, in my view.