/ Technology

Superfast broadband customers shouldn’t be stuck in slow lane

Fibre broadband network concept

Were you promised superfast broadband, but find your internet crawls along? In this guest post Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media’s Chief Executive Officer, calls for greater clarity on advertising speeds.

Broadband speed and the capacity that it delivers, matters. We’ve seen customers’ data use grow at around 60% every year which, if the trend continues, will be 10,000% higher in ten years.

The simple fact is this. When you sign up to a new broadband provider, the speed it claims to deliver is one of the main criteria you will use.

The higher the advertised speed, the more you will be able to make of the service you are paying for. At least, that’s the logic.

The reality is that to meet the rules set by the advertising watchdogs, the broadband speeds claimed in advertising need only be available to 10% of customers.

Sure, there are technical issues why you might not be able to access the top speed all the time – they affect every provider at one time or another and we all work hard to fix them quickly. But, service isn’t the issue Which? is addressing here, it’s speed.

Today, you can sign-up for a so-called superfast connection with some big-name ISPs only to find you probably never would have been able to get those speeds in the first place.

Outdated rules

Ofcom determines 30Mbps as the slowest broadband speed that can be classed as superfast. Our entry-level speed is 50Mbps and any of our customers can access ultrafast broadband speeds of 152Mbps.

Is it right for customers that a 30Mbps services should be sold under the same name as a service that goes five times quicker? Times have changed since the advertising watchdogs set their rules in 2011. It’s time to raise the bar.

Broadband marks its fifteenth birthday this year. With age comes responsibility and it’s time for the industry to work with Which?, Ofcom and the advertising watchdogs to be clearer when advertising broadband speeds.

In the long term, this 10% rule does nobody any favours. If advertising claims superfast broadband speeds, those speeds should be available to the many not the few.

I’m backing the Which? campaign today and will be writing to the advertising watchdogs and Ofcom to urge it to join us in raising the bar.

This is a guest contribution by Tom Mockridge, of Virgin Media. All opinions expressed here are Tom’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Carole Worthy says:
15 July 2015

I need broadband because my office is here in Normans Bay. However even though I have the ‘new super fast system’ my download speed was a ‘mega’ 4.8 and my upload speed was a paltry 0.5 this evening at 7pm . I have had quotes from various companies, who all promise great things but when I pin them down for guaranteed speeds they are all about the same because they all come through the same physical system. It is all smoke and mirrors and actually lies and misrepresentation which if I was doing in my business I would be accused of FRAUD.

In London I have one gigabit broadband (downstream and upstream) via fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) – truly ultrafast or superfast. My case should be the norm and not the exception. The UK needs to move away from archaic copper cables (which includes FTTC or fibre-to-the-cabinet) so that FTTP becomes universal. This has already happened in countries like South Korea. Why should the UK remain in the slow lane?


It doesn’t matter what 10% of customers get, or even 90%. I want a reliable estimate of what I am likely to get in my premises. Whilst adverts can carry the sort of maximum speed the service is capable of they should tell customers exactly how to get an estimate relevant to themselves. I can get that with a copper service; can I get that with a fibre service as well?

Has any other person had problems with Talk Talk ? I seriously need to talk to a member of senior managment before I go crazy and rip the whole system from the sockets ..please does any one have a number where I can talk to someone who can make decisions

Reference the Talk talk problem would welcome any constructive info thanks

I agree with the latest news that broadband @ 50mb is more effective than speeds of 30. As a virgin media customer the increase of their basic broadband speed has made a great difference of my streaming availability. Thanks VM.

Beachman says:
16 July 2015

The comments made by Tom Mockridge, Virgin Media’s Chief Executive Officer are commendable. As soon as their service is available in my area I will be switching to Virgin.
Honest companies deserve loyal following. BT speed promises made to me are totally unrealistic and misleading.

Andy Houghton says:
16 July 2015

I own a Corporate Video production Company here in Blackpool. After years of campaigning and thanks to Superfast Lancashire – last year we finally had the area supplied with Fibre to the Cabinet by BT.

For me, having fast data speeds enables me to move large HD video files around to my clients without the need for heavy compression.

Therefore we opted for the best BT could offer – Infinity 2 with quotations of “Up to 79Mbps” or we could have gone for Infinity 1 at a cheaper price with speeds Up to 35Mbps”.

Infinity 2 gives us speeds no more than 50Mbps and this is often reduced to just 35Mbps throughout the day. Yet BT continue to charge us for the higher speeds.

We know we cannot move anywhere even to another supplier as all of them use the BT Network except for Virgin Media who we don’t have in our well populated area..

BT engineers told me that although the exchange is less than three quarters of a mile away from me, the nearest cabinet is some distance from my studio so the signal has to travel out on copper and back again on fibre, so before they invest in installing more fibre cabinets to the area, people and businesses suffer as they have only installed the bare minimum.

Virgin Media I believe is now looking at the North Shore Area here in Blackpool, the sooner the better for me, I look forward to getting decent speeds and independent of the BT Network.

Tom Mockridge – Thank you for supporting the efforts of Which? for better broadband services.

Having had a look at the Virgin Media website, I am extremely disappointed to see the term ‘up to’ used to describe the speeds offered by packages. In an earlier Conversation, Richard Piggin gave us a delightful example of the absurdity of use of ‘up to’ in marketing: “Imagine walking into a pub this weekend ordering a pint and the barman saying he’ll pour you ‘up to’ a full pint. Or buying train tickets from London to Newcastle – that might only take you to York or Doncaster.”

Please get rid of ‘up to’ from your marketing. My ISP did this a few years ago, after numerous complaints.

What a cheeky post this is!

I have friends in Swindon who pay for the higest possible speed on Virgin and yet the actual speed at their house is less than the slowest minimum “up to” speed that Virgin advertise.

Please may I suggest that Mr Mockridge could start by putting his own house in order, before he jumps onto the Which? bandwagon, to set the world to rights?

Perhaps internet serice providers should use some of their computering resources to log the acutal speed of their serivce to each client, and then charge accordingly.

If your friends have followed the usual advice to check for local problems and have discussed the issue with customer service then it would certainly be worth taking this further, DerekP.

As far as I know, they have not yet complained about this – but perhaps they should.

There is, of course, the fear that, if they were on one of the less costy Virgin tariffs, they would receive an even slower service.

I suspect their expectations of using Virgin customer service have been pre-condioned to expect only a very low level of help and service.

About 2 years ago, they almost took out a Virgin account, but backed out of the deal at the last minutes. Nonetheless, the (commission hungry?) Virgin sales machine set up an account for them and started sending them bills for a non-existent service.

In due course, these were followed by arrears reminders and the “disconnection” of the non-existent service.

With my help, they sent a series of short letters to Virgin, to ask for this false accounting to be corrected and for the cancellation of these unjustified bills.

After the 3rd letter, VIrgin finally accepted the real facts of the situation and reversed the charges. Even then, their accounts department messed that up, leaving a residual debt of 18p on the account.

My personal experience of Virgin is that they relentlessly mailshot my house. Every month, “the householder” at my house recieves either 1 or 2 appeals to join their broadband service. I am registered with MPS but I have read that this will not prevent this type of spam.

I have a Vodafone SiM-only contract and have received a couple of marketing phone calls from them. I have made it very clear that if they call me again, my next call will be for my PAC code to move to another service provider. They have respected this.

Companies have terms and conditions and perhaps consumers should do the same. One of mine would be that marketing calls/emails etc are forbidden unless you opt-in. Another would be that my contact details must be removed if I stop using a company’s services. My ISP has left me in peace for years but since their roll out of fibre broadband started earlier this year I have had browser pop-ups, emails and a phone call about YouView. They have had their first warning, which seems to have been effective. If the problem persists, I will give the second and final warning.

I’m supposed to get 8Mb adsl from my broadband isp, but they throttle everything down to 0.3Mb until nighttime. It’s quite expensive broadband too, and they’ve refused to remove the throttling. They said it’s part of the product I’m paying for.

What can I do? Would talking to Ofcom or Trading Standards help? Or would it just make my isp terminate my contract and leave me without broadband?

Hi so,

It might be worth looking around and seeing if other providers are better at delivering speeds to your area. You can do this by getting speed quotes from other providers or checking what speeds your neighbours are getting (and what provider they are with) here: http://www.uswitch.com/broadband/speedtest/streetstats/ If they are getting higher speeds then you should be able to as well.

In October new protections will come into place which could allow you to exit your contract penalty free. Ofcom’s Voluntary Code of Practice, which has been signed up to by the big broadband providers, has been revised to ensure that if you are receiving speeds “significantly below” the speed you were quoted at purchase you would be able to exit your contract without penalty. They define “significantly below” as receiving speeds that are in the bottom 10th percentile of similar broadband customers.

See our advice page for more information: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/problem/im-not-getting-the-broadband-speed-i-was-promised-what-can-i-do

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After some further thoughts, I now realise I would be quite happy to have an “Up to 152 Mb” (sic) contract with Virgin if I only had to pay them “up to £46.99” each month.

With such a contract I would expect to pay the full monthly fee only when my connection had always run at full speed.

In any months where my connection had run at less than the maximum advertised speed, I would be happy to pay just a lower (pro-rata) fee.

I think it is a bit rich of Tom Mockridge to come on here and criticise ISPs for not giving the broadband speed they claim to, when Virgin Media is one of the worst offenders. Virgin Media’s network is so heavily oversubscribed in some areas that the speeds reduce to a crawl during the evenings when people want to use their broadband.

I have used Virgin Media (previously NTL) broadband for many years. I am on the 100 Mbps download package, and can achieve this speed during quiet times. But during the evening my speed goes down to 3 Mbps, or 3% of what I am paying for.

Mine is not an isolated case. Large areas of the country are similarly affected as can be seen on the Virgin Media forum. Go to the speed section and you will see thousands of complaints.

The staff can only apologise and say the cause is ‘utilisation’, that is to say too many customers on the network. The dates of promised improvements keep being pushed further back. Meanwhile the sales staff are more than happy to sign up new customers in areas that are already heavily congested.

I would like to see Which? do an investigation of Virgin Media broadband as I don’t think we are being told the truth currently.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

We are waiting for BT to offer fibre in our area. As soon as they do a lot of people I know who are currently with Virgin Media will be off like a shot. I would much rather have a reliable 70 Mbps download, than the headline speeds that Virgin Media offer. Virgin’s upload speeds are in the slow lane too. With a 100 Mbps package my upload speed is only 6 Mbps.