/ Technology

We’ve had it ‘up to’ here with broadband ads

Broadband campaign logo

Are confusing broadband ads bringing you down loads? Well today we’re calling on advertising watchdogs to tighten up guidelines on speed claims in broadband ads.

I’m an addict. Yes, it is finally time for me to come clean: I am addicted to Masterchef. (I feel better already.) I love salivating over beautifully plated food, cooked in either silly or sublime ways, and shouting at my iPad: ‘Oh, I think that millefeuille looks a bit thick.’

What I couldn’t stand though was waiting for my next hit of Masterchef to load on BBC iPlayer. Instead of watching grown men and women shouting at each other about risotto, pork and panna cotta, I was faced with the dreaded buffering symbol.

That made me switch my broadband to ‘superfast’, so hopefully the days of buffering are behind me.

However, what I didn’t know was that the speeds quoted in broadband ads only need to apply to 10% of customers. And I’m not alone – nine in ten of us aren’t aware of this rule.

Advertised broadband speeds

Broadband ads infographicSpeed is the second most important factor when choosing a broadband deal, behind only price. With speed playing such a big role in convincing people which deal to go with, we don’t think it’s right for providers to entice customers in with speed claims most of them may never receive. In fact, we found that a quarter of people would choose a different deal if they had better info on speeds.

We want the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) to pull the plug on confusing broadband ads. Vague claims like ‘superfast’ need to be quantified, and providers should show the speeds the majority of customers will actually get.

If you have had it ‘up to’ here with confusing broadband advertisements, sign our petition to convince advertising watchdogs to give us broadband ads we can all trust.

Were you aware of the 10% rule? Are you not getting the speeds you thought you would be getting?


The disparity between different customers’ speeds with the same ASDL provider is mostly down to distance from the BT exchange. This is an inherent problem with ADSL which is outside ISPs’ control, so I don’t think it’s fair to blame them. Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) eliminates this disparity, because the distance from the cabinet to the premises tends to be more uniform and much smaller. However, it’s high time that we move away from archaically carrying the internet over copper telephone lines and instead carry telephone lines over the internet using fibre to the premises (FTTP).

Broadband providers should also advertise their upload speeds as prominently as their download speeds. Some upload speeds are shockingly low, often just a tiny fraction of the download speed. This means that if you want to send a large video, for example by uploading it to YouTube or sending it to a friend via Skype, then it can take forever. However, this is what the A in ADSL means – asymmetric; the download and upload speeds are not the same.

The figure of 10% also has another completely different relevance, which is not well known by consumers. Your maximum bandwidth will always be around 10% less than the speed of your connection because of control and framing data. Think of it a bit like an envelope in the postal system. Although the contents of a thick letter might weigh 90g, the total weight including the envelope might be 100g. For example, if your ADSL line sync speed (viewable in your router’s web interface) is 10Mbps, then you will never get more than around 9Mbps of bandwidth. Even my gigabit broadband connection at home can’t get more than around 900Mbps on a really good day.

PeterM says:
19 November 2014

“Fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) eliminates this disparity” – sorry, that’s not correct. There are still issues concerning distance, and in part what cable is used. I’m in a semi in a cul-de-sac, served by aluminium (not copper) cabling that goes “around the houses” (actually 5 blocks of flats, 2 low, 3 very high, so around 300+ households at a guess) to a cabinet around 600 meters away.

Speed estimate on FTTC for my home is 33.5 Mbps, but the takeaway across the road behind my house (and their fibre cabinet is 30 feet from my back window) has an estimate of 67 Mbps. It’s down to both distance and cable type (and many, many problems, according to some of the Openreach engineers I’ve spoken to).

You can also find some locations in the UK which will not get even 30 Mbps, let alone 60-75 Mbps, where their FTTC is only offering 15 Mbps. Down to location, cabling, etc.

I agree with all your other points, but there are quite a variety of speeds available even on FTTC (and I agree, if it was the other type, Fibre To The Premises, the speed would not be susceptible to the vagaries of the cabling or interference like electric fences, Christmas lights, etc), and felt that people should be aware there is still no “guarantee” of the highest (75 Mbps and above) speeds for ALL….


Peter you say you are served by aluminium instead of copper. I was under the impression that BT had removed all aluminium cable from its network . This was tried in the 70,s I should know as one of the cabinets it was tried at beside a busy road caused the cable to break and I had to visit customers to make sure that the copper replacement was working okay. The city I worked in didnt fit ant more of it. It also have a much higher series resistance than copper which wont help your speed . Aluminium does not have a long life ,if air gets into the cable it oxidises and in the event of water getting in it breaks down quicker . It was banned in my area. Now nearly 40 years later it has come back to haunt me . Why was it fitted ,easy guess MONEY.


I am not happy with advertising broadband speeds that only 10% can achieve. Let us put the customer first and advertise speeds that 90% can achieve. Those who get a better service will be pleased rather than the majority feeling short-changed.

When I first signed up for broadband I contacted my ISP that my speed was only 0.8Mbps, 10% of the advertised 8Mbps and was actually told that I should be happy with this. When I made it very clear that I was not happy, something was done at their end and the speed improved considerably, though it was still less than half the claimed speed.

My ISP no longer advertises ‘up to 24 Mbps’. It gives a typical speed based on postcode and a maximum and minimum speed to expect. That seems much fairer.


I don’t see how ADSL ISPs can advertise a useful average speed, because it’s so dependent on the distance from the exchange. The only meaningful speed to advertise is the maximum theoretical speed, which will be reduced according to the distance from the BT exchange. Most ISPs provide a more accurate speed prediction based on a prospective customer’s phone number and postcode. Generic headline prices should mention only the maximum theoretical sync speed of the ADSL technology used.

The problem I do have is with ISPs that do not invest in sufficient infrastructure to support the number of customers they have. This results in contention with too many customers using limited network infrastructure at the same time. To avoid this, I suggest avoiding the large well-known ISPs that compete mainly on price to consumers with limited technical knowledge and instead go for a niche ISP that is favoured by very technical consumers.


“The only meaningful speed to advertise is the maximum theoretical speed, …”

I totally disagree. This is worthless information to customers and the reason there have been so many complaints. It’s the reason why we are having this Conversation.

After years of lies, we need ISPs to deliver what they promise, or more. There is nothing wrong with giving customers at least what they expect. It might command a bit of respect.


Only the maximum theoretical speed of the technology allows consumers to make an informed choice between each technology. For example, ISP1 uses standard ADSL which supports a maximum of 8Mbps and ISP2 uses ADSL2 which supports a maximum of 24Mbps. In a particular consumer’s case, both speeds might be reduced by 30% because of the consumer’s distance from the BT exchange, but this 30% would be the same across all ADSL ISPs. This approach applies only to comparing between different ADSL ISPs, which is unfortunately still the most prevalent broadband technology used in the UK.

When comparing between different technologies, e.g. ADSL, FTTC, FTTP, WIMAX, satellite etc, then yes, the average speed does make a difference.

It’s important that consumers understand that broadband speed is affected by:
1. Technology used
2. Distance from the exchange (in the case of ADSL)
3. Contention ratio used by the ISP

Given that 2 is outside ISPs’ control but affects the speed so greatly, it’s not meaningful to use it to compare different ADSL ISPs.

Publishing an average speed oversimplifies something that can’t be simplified.


The ISP needs to take into account the distance and other factors in telling us what speed we can expect.

As I have said, it does not matter if they underestimate the speed but it is dishonest to significantly overestimate it.

My ISP tells me that the average speed for my postcode area is 10Mbps and that the speed may vary between 8 and 12Mbps. My speed is at the lower end of this range, but elsewhere in the street, speeds are higher. It is honest and very much better than quoting ‘up to 24 Mbps’, which is what the ISP used to do.

It’s time to stop short-changing customers.


My ISP told me it would need a phone number to most accurately predict my likely broadband speed. Not a post code – does not give as accurate a result.

I understand what “up to” means, but I also want an estimate that predicts my particular property. Asking the right question seems to elicit the right information – nothing to do with honesty. But we probably need to be prompted to ask the right question in the first place.


I accept that a phone number is better, particularly in rural areas where a postcode can cover a large area. I don’t care how an ISP estimates what speed they can provide as long as they can provide useful information.

I understand about distance, contention ratios, signal to noise ratio and some of the other factors involved, but what matters to each and every customer is what speed they can expect to achieve. We should not have to ask technical questions.

Lets have an honest estimate of what speed can be provided and in the interests of customer satisfaction it is better to underestimate that speed. It’s all about honesty.


“We should not have to ask technical questions.”. If a prospective ISP states that to give you your best estimate of broadband speed they require your phone number, that is hardly a technical question. If you then get nothing like the estimate, then you can criticise them. We need to play our part in this.


We keep returning to this topic. Before you sign up to a broadband contract you can get an estimate of what you are likely to get at your particular property. Post code is not accurate – telephone number is more useful.

As NFH points out there are physical factors that affect it. And an average is nearly as useless as a maximum – I want to know what I am actually likely to get.

What might be useful is if broadband providers pointed out the means by which you can get an estimate from them before taking out a contract.

Perhaps Which? could publish a helpful article on how to make the best choice of broadband, and stave off the rants that all these providers are dishonest charlatans.