/ Technology

Tractors & fridges – baffling excuses for slow broadband speeds

What’s causing your slow internet speeds? Could it be background noise from cars and trains? Perhaps interference from your household fridge? Or could it be caused by a tractor taking out the broadband line?

The simple truth is, broadband speed is typically dictated by how far your home is from the nearest exchange. But despite this, each of the excuses above were given to our mystery callers when they phoned major internet providers, posing as potential customers who’d like to know the speeds they might expect.

Our callers made 180 phone calls to 15 of the biggest internet providers, who are each obliged by Ofcom to give potential customers a likely estimate for the broadband speeds they can expect if they enter into a contract. This estimate should be based on the caller’s location, and must be offered up as soon as is reasonably practical during a phone call.

Irrelevant advice over the phone

Despite your home’s location being the main determining factor in the level of broadband speed you can enjoy, our callers were confronted with a cornucopia of excuses for why speeds can slow down. One call-handler from Eclipse said:

‘For example, [if] someone with a tractor going through a field took out a line, we wouldn’t be able to guarantee [your speed] because of those potential issues.’

A representative for Be told us that ‘any noises caused by machines, for example, refrigerators, trains, cars, may interfere with the broadband signal’.

So is there any truth in these claims? While household electricals and passing traffic can indeed create interference with your broadband, compared to the real issue of your home’s distance from the nearest exchange, these factors are largely irrelevant.

A spokesperson for TalkTalk put it best, telling one of our callers that ‘really, the only way you can get better speed is by moving house’. A different Eclipse call-handler also summed up the issue neatly, saying ‘the only way you can get faster speeds is either to move house or to change the laws of physics’.

Your rights when signing up to broadband

Some of the worst advice we received was when one AOL call-handler said they wouldn’t be able to provide a speed estimate until our caller had taken a contract out with them:

‘Once you take out a package with AOL and you set up for broadband, we will be able to tell you [your speed] afterwards.’

This is utterly unfair advice for anyone entering into a contract for a service. As a potential broadband customer, you are entitled to an estimate of likely speed for your home long before you sign on the dotted line.

Have you ever been given any poor excuses for slow broadband speeds by an ISP?


So, this is about maximum expected speed governed by physical and terrestial factors. Another quite important factor is the through speed you get from the ISP. The speed of their modem interface means little if you have to share the available bandwidth with, say, 100 other subscribers. There should at least be a mandatory ‘minimum committed speed’ stated along with typical avarage loading speeds. If we are to talk rip-off figures, Gordon Brown did the best ever job for the ISP’s when he said all contracts were to be for a minimum of 8 Mb/s. I was on a 2 Mb/s contract at the time, the cost went up by 8 pounds a month within days for the 8 Mb/s speed, but the modem remained at 2 Mb/s. Thanks Gordon, you were wonderful. I soon changed provider to get the up-grade. Today I have 16.47 Mb/s download speed but only 797 kb/s upload speed. That up-load also needs to be addressed. Just stating the ‘up to’ speed is really not good enough.


You should expect a throughput speed of about five-sixths of your modem (Sync) speed, normally when the network is not congested.

You are not sharing YOUR bandwidth with other subscribers, but the much greater ( by 1000s) bandwidth of the exchange.


If you need faster upload speeds, you need to go to fibre (FTTC/P) if available at your cabinet.


It is the bandwith supplied to the exchange I am talking about, divided by the number of subsribers using that bandwith, if indeed that bandwith is available to the exchange itself …. That is where the minimum committed rate comes in. Its taken me a while to work out 5/6 to be 83%, but that depends on the physical copper line and overhead feed to the house, nothing to do with the ideal modem speed. If those copper wires feed 16 Mb/s to the house I see no reason why the same wires cannot send 16 Mb/s back to the exchange, why should one need FO to upload if copper is ok for downloads?? Yes, I know it then becomes bi-directional traffic and it’s a compromise, but my point was that the upload speed should be considered along with the download speed. Uploading a 10 Gb web site takes a long time.


Most of us upload far less, just short instructions to servers, than we download.

Hence that’s why ISPs generally market ASYMMETRIC DSL (ADSL) to meet the majority demand.

The 17% reduction in throughput is not to do with the quality of lines to the house, but is to accommodate the protocol, ADSL & TCP/IP, overheads of the transmission. It is the envelope that enables the postman to deliver the letter to your door 🙂 .


I’m not quite sure I understand you. You’re blaming Gordon Brown because your ISP was run by a bunch of crooks?

You really have to start taking control of these things for yourself you know, the government can’t do everything for you (As this lot are proving over and over again…).


In order to ‘improve internet speeds’ GB declared, for whatever reason, that the minimum BB speed in UK would be 8 Mb/s. At the time I was, by free choice and of my own sound mind, and with great care and a lot of research, on a 2 Mb/s contract (including line rental and phone package) and was perfectly happy with that speed, at that time at the price I was paying. The fact that GB in effect said the 2 Gb/s tarif was no longer acceptable for the plebs like me and I had to go to 8 Mb/s, like it or not. At that time 8 Mb/s was very expensive compared to 2 Mb/s. The ISP had to dump the 2 Mb/s tariff, my tariff increased to the 8 Mb/s and the cost went up by 50% for the same service and I was not happy. As I said I changed ISP povider very quickly, mostly as the phone package phone-to-internet usage ratio was then totally out of balance (for me). How you interpret that in the way you did, that I expect to be hand fed by the government I dont know. The same would apply whatever government was in power, I have no particular political affiliations, I detest them all equally.


Even fibre optic will not give maximum transmission speeds if the last few 10s of meters are a pair of copper wires (laws of physics I’m afraid). Ideally the fibre optic line needs to go from the ISP through the exchange, into your house and right up to the port on your pc or wireless router.


Yeah, that’s called FTTP (Fibre to the Premises)! It can give speeds of over 100 Meg.

Even so, FTTC (Fibre to the Cabinet) can still give fast speeds of up to 80 Meg, even with the final few 100s of yards to your house being copper.