/ Technology

Superfast? I don’t think so

bad broadband

The broadband service many of us get simply isn’t good enough. That’s why we’ve launched a campaign to paint a true picture of broadband speeds across the UK

Fancy getting up at 4am just so you can do your online banking? How about having to queue up at an internet cafe to send a few emails? It doesn’t sound much fun. But it’s reality for many left behind while the rest of the UK gets ever-faster broadband.

Broadband firms love to bandy around phrases such as ‘superfast’ and ‘ultrafast’, and advertise connection speeds that, for many, are as impossible to get as the winning lottery numbers.

The government says that the lowest acceptable download speed is 10Mbps, but a House of Commons report last month revealed communities struggling to get anywhere near this.

It listed the village of Abererch in Wales as having the lowest speeds in the UK. Residents there report having to get up at all hours to use the internet before it slows to a complete crawl.

Our findings

Our latest broadband survey shows some improvements. But we also found there is still a massive difference between rural and urban areas.

Just 59% of rural premises had access to 30Mbps download speeds by June 2016. Pretty poor, given that the UK average is 90%.

Where I live in the West Country we have to pay £30 a month extra for a 4GB mobile phone mast that offers speeds of only 20Mbps. Farmers nearby have to go to internet cafes to send off forms they’re required by law to complete.

And these problems aren’t unique to rural areas – many residents in pockets of our towns and cities are also reporting struggles with slow speeds and constant buffering.

Taking action

Reliable and fast broadband is vital for anyone who wants to play a full role in our society. Whether it’s applying for a job, shopping online, doing online banking, or running your own business, you need a trustworthy internet connection.

It’s because so many of your daily experiences differ so widely from the superfast paradise promised by broadband providers that we have launched the Fix Bad Broadband campaign.

We want to paint a true picture of broadband speeds across the UK, and we’ll use that evidence to tackle the problem.

Our improved broadband speed checker lets you get a much clearer idea of what speed you should be expecting in your area.

And if yours isn’t what it’s supposed to be, we have tips and advice on how to improve your connection, and a free tool to help you to complain to your provider if you’re still not happy.


We live in Coventry, near Warwick University, just 3 miles from the City Centre. We run an office-based business from home. On a good day we may possibly get a download speed of 4Mbps, but typically 3.5 or less. Our upload speed has been known to reach the dizzy heights of 1Mbps!
Coventry has met its target of 95% superfast and therefore has no interest in the remaining 5%. Fibre is not coming any time soon to our road!
As more of the neighbours get smart TVs, iPads etc the speed just gets slower.
We are able to stream some films but the quality is adjusted to suit our speed and is therefore pretty bad compared to HD on terrestrial TV.
We are getting left behind in technology as more devices, apps etc need faster speed than our 3.5Mbps!

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I’m sure everyone would be happy to pay a little more to get better broadband speeds. I got better speed in the middle of the Indian Ocean than I do in Devon. What’s wrong with this country?

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Don says:
29 April 2017

A New Topic:

I live in a rural village in Wales (near the town of Usk), and am with TalkTalk, I am a bit over a mile from a Green Cabinet. My broadband speed is normally around 20 mbps, yet in the early evening it tends to slow to a crawl. The Green Cabinet is connected to the telephone exchange in Usk. Now it turns out that exactly the same thing happens to people in the town (reputedly it’s the children after school using the net). So the problem appears to be the capacity of the broadband link coming out of Usk upstream and not the link from the town to me. This upstream link is unlikely to be owned by TalkTalk (probably Open Reach?), yet TalkTalk (and other ISPs) will get the blame for the problem.

My point is, broadband is the product of several companies and not just the end provider. Surveys of end providers are very misleading and don’t tell the full story. The customer service aspect is a valid point but speed and possibly reliability are not. What I need as a consumer is to know what is causing the bottlenecks, so that I can complain to the right companies (or will the ISP do that on my behalf?).

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I understand how difficult it is to get fibre to remote area such as where I am. However, I have been here since before broadband became the essential service it now is and would be happy to get 5Mbps (lucky to get 2Mbps at the moment and can’t get a mobile signal inside the house either). Unfair that I have to pay the same as those getting 15Mbps and more. Surely if we were charged per Mb rather than the “up to” prices then there would be more incentive to improve speeds to a reasonable level everywhere.

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It’s worth reading this article about all the things that affect broadband speed. It’s not always the actual line. http://www.thinkbroadband.com/guide/broadband-speed.html
Many people don’t realise, for example, how much using Wireless can reduce their speed.

I am at a loss to understand the broadband provider comparisons. If I understand correctly, access is either via Openreach or Virgin. Virgin coverage is more limited so if you aren’t in a cabled area, this isn’t an option. Openreach speed and reliability vary considerably between localities. Where I live, the choice is between an extremely reliable 200 Mb/s Virgin service or an unreliable 2 Mb/s service with one of the other providers. It’s what works in your street that matters, not national surveys.

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If companies such as Virgin are selling packages that make use of fast broadband, should they not be contributing to the cost of the roll out of faster services across the country?

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Another week has gone by and we still haven’t had a peep out of Ofcom in the parallel Conversation to explain these points about coverage and correct any misunderstandings we might have about the high speed broadband roll-out. Perhaps no-one is reading our comments.

I would like to see VM, Sky, etc. required to contribute to the costs of fibre broadband because these companies are contributing to the demand for fast broadband and users of their streaming services can create problems for other users, including those who have very modest needs.

I take your point that BT should not be blamed for the fact that many still have a poor service, particularly in rural issues. If I was in charge of BT I would be pushing very hard for the costs of the roll out of fast broadband to be shared with other companies.

I thought it was being paid for by the government and being implemented by Openreach. We need confirmation or clarification from Ofcom because there seem to be various different understandings of the position, especially progress against the ‘end of 2017’ deadline for 95% coverage, the government’s minimum speed specification, and why so many users reporting here have very poor service with just a few months to go.

That’s my understanding too, John. What I’m suggesting is that the companies creating the demand for fast broadband and profiting from use of their services should be making a significant contribution to the cost of the roll out of fast broadband.

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Point taken, Duncan, but should not the government be running the show to avoid this sort of problems? Leave it up to companies and they will focus on making a profit rather than providing a service for everyone. It concerns me that in installing FTTC rather than FTTP we are spending money on an obsolescent service rather than looking to the future.

We have privatised companies providing essential services, but the government should be in control of what they are allowed to do.

And perhaps what they are required to do.

I agree with you, Wavechange; the companies that are pouring high-volume content down inadequate infrastructure should certainly be contributing to the upgrades – and this includes the betting and gambling companies, film and music streamers, and the on-line games producers. The way to make it work would be to charge the carriers [BT, VM, TalkTalk, etc] who would then have to pass it on to the producers/suppliers [Netflix etc]. Apart from anything else this traffic is making life more difficult through congestion for people who don’t use the services but want quick-&-easy browsing, mailing, shopping and web-searching.

I certainly don’t want more government money being used to provide entertainment, John. There is also the option of charging according to use, which would not be popular but would help finance the roll out of fast broadband and be fairer.

Yes, that’s what I meant, Wavechange. My comment was a bit unclear and the second sentence should have read : The way to make it work would be for Openreach [or other infrastructure provider] to charge the service providers [BT, VM, TalkTalk, etc] for carrying the traffic and they in turn would have to pass it on to the content producers/suppliers [films and video, games, betting, etc, sites] who would need to raise their prices to their customers. Sounds a bit cumbersome but I am sure the computers at each point in the chain could handle it. This would generate a flow of external money that could be spent on higher capacity and speed; the downside could be that the producers/suppliers would demand delivery of the capacity they would be paying for as a priority over other broadband upgrades. That would be for Ofcom to resolve.

It’s all very well to suggest placing a router close to where you’ll be using the web; router instructions recommend plugging it into the main telephone point in the house. Commonly, this is usually in the hall near the front door (frequently the coldest part of the house too!) as that’s where builders install them for cheapness and certainly in older houses there isn’t often a power socket adjacent to the phone point. Personally I don’t sit in the hall when I’m online & nor do I have a power source close to the main telephone point. You also suggest putting the router on a raised surface; again the possibility of doing this is limited as phone sockets tend to be installed at or just above skirting height and like most electrical items these days only comes fitted with a very short length of power cable (some crazy EU directive I suppose) which severely restricts how high it can be placed. Instead of putting the onus of trying to get a decent Broadband speed on the long-suffering customer, broadband providers need to address these basic issues by re-designing the routers to make the above suggestions feasible.

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When I had an installation done the main socket was put in the room of my choice, near a socket, and the router has 6 ft of cable,; It can also be wall mounted. That solves most potential problems. My main phone also plugs into the same socket; if you have a landline phone you’d want that in a warm part of the house and near a socket outlet.

You mention rural areas not getting the recommended bb speeds together pockets in urban areas. I am in an urban area where at home and at the office Virgin Media is the only provider that can offer speeds greater than 3 mps. Therefore your suggestion to try the lesser known providers is useless. Many of us only have ‘Hobson’s Choice!’

ian says:
9 May 2017

i have been having email debates with BT for years now , they seem to believe that they can provide me with a broadband download speed of 1.6mbs and charge me the same as someone getting a much higher download speed. I have tried Ofcom but because BT state they will supply me with a speed of 0- 17mbs there is nothing they can do. I have been a customer of BTs for 27 years and have always paid my bills, bills which are going up and I as I refuse to sign up to a contract with BT because they will not give me a better broadband service I cannot avail of cheaper deals.
BT have ignored the infrastructure that supplies my house for over 30 years and now I am paying for their lack of forethought. I know I live in a rural area but this is no excuse for the customer service BT are providing me.

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Even the Labour Party are not proposing to renationalise BT, Duncan, so I don’t know where that idea comes from! The cost would be astronomical.

In one form or another the cost of supplying fibre to the premises will be borne by those customers that require it. The government is paying for fibre to the cabinet.

The fall in profits in the BT Group’s worldwide operations stems from accounting irregularities in their Italian subsidiary for which the Group has had to make provisions of £500 million. Not all international telecoms markets are as robust as the UK one which is dominated by BT.

Vodafone, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and Sky are all UK companies. I believe the full takeover of Sky by 21st Century Fox still awaits European regulatory approval.

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Sorry, Duncan, I misread your post. I am not familiar with “re-rationalisation”. I expect in BT’s case it means to sort out their sprawling global empire and concentrate on communication services rather things like exchanges, cables and transmitters. I was also misled by your comment “You are prepared for one of the last British companies to go down but not a squeak of criticism about any US/foreign owned big business“.

Surely, the whole point of any “re-rationalisation” is to stop BT going down. Mr M would be wasting his time talking to Mrs M – the Sky deal is on the table and just awaiting clearance over which she has no control. BT/Openreach won’t provide fibre where it wouldn’t be profitable. That is the government’s obligation and even then Ofcom’s plan is only faster broadband [not necessarily entirely fibre] to 95% by the end of this year. I have seen no evidence that the PM has taken any interest in this policy; Ofcom does the dirty work.

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I am not surprised Murdoch was frequently calling at No 10 like a desperate door-to-door brush salesman but as probably the most significant media tycoon in the world today that is not surprising. Any government would want to have him on side. I expect the PM was trying to bend his ear on a range of topics. It’s what governments do. I read about all these happenings but not much seems to come of them on either side. I think a lot of them are just positioning moves.

I just noticed an excess of italic text in my preceding post. I must have failed to close the italic script at the end of the first paragraph. I’m clearly losing it.

They play a dangerous game.

It would be useful if Which? would show the download speeds needed for broadband users to perform all the tasks that are essential. I am not happy to see my hard-earned taxes used to provide broadband at a speed that is simply to provide others with audio or visual entertainment. So where is the line to be drawn between necessity and luxury?

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Those appear to be 2014 figures Duncan.

There would be a lot of buffering watching standard streaming videos on 0.7 Mbps or HD-quality streaming movies on 4Mbps.

Browsing the internet on 1Mbps would be painful and very tedious as pages would take forever to download.

The report also doesn’t mention large updates that could time out before they finish.

I think today, an absolute minimum speed of 5Mbps is necessary to
do the basics with 8Mbps to do most things at an acceptable speed. But in a couple of years time, more will be required.

As more and more content is thrown at the internet for our use, faster and faster speeds are required. Those on 100 Mbps are safe for quite a while, but those on less than 10 Mbps will be struggling in a few years time.

According to Ofcom, “decent broadband” is 10 Mbps and it wants to get 95% of the UK up to that standard.

I feel obliged to reiterate my constant reminder that we are still waiting for Ofcom to return to this site – any of the many relevant Conversations would do – and answer some of the fundamental and essential questions that have arisen during our discussions on exactly what is intended to be provided, when it will be finished, and who will be left out. I assume, for the want of any contradiction, that those who are furthest from a cabinet will get no improvement. For some clusters of properties, an additional closer cabinet might be installed so that the copper distance can be reduced. But it’s all speculation until Ofcom responds.

Malcolm wrote “So where is the line to be drawn between necessity and luxury?” This very much depends on the user. I move large files between computers and servers and exchange them with other users. I do large software downloads. I’ve done this for years and it’s not for entertainment. My leisure use is quite limited – nothing more demanding than watching a programme on iPlayer every couple of weeks. I’ve no problem now because I have a 50Mbps FTTP service and could have a faster service if I paid more.

What concerns me is all those who suffer from a poor service – too slow at peak times or all the time, or unreliable. In other discussions, you more than others push the need for consumers to have a choice. The fact that you and others have modest needs does not mean that we all do. Small companies might not need fast broadband but it is important that their service is reliable.

I am disappointed that the government has not though to require companies to charge high users according to use, a more intelligent approach than unlimited services. The extra revenue could help fund continued roll out of faster services. I’m disappointed that the government is not gaining significant revenue from the companies profiting from entertainment services that are dependent on fast broadband. The government should certainly not have made the universal service obligation without it being practical to implement.

The one thing that I do agree about is that the government should not be continuing to put public money into broadband when there are alternative sources of funding. I’m certainly not suggesting that BT foots the bill.

alfa, it is the essential tasks I am concerned with, and maybe attention shoulkd be paid to ensuring those are within the realistic speed range of the majority. The “discretionary” content that may require ever-increasing speeds is not something our over-stretched taxes should be poured into in my view; let those who want this content, and those who provide it (if that is possible), pay for the luxury.

I am all for providers like Amazon and Netflix paying to upgrade the infrastructure as those streaming TV, videos and on-line gaming are the main reason we need faster internet. By undercutting Virgin and Sky, their customer base is growing, they are paying nothing towards their delivery platform and it is time that was recognised and rectified by Ofcom.

The government says that the lowest acceptable download speed is 10Mbps but that is very short-sighted as we will be going through the same thing all over again in about 5 years time.

Essential tasks like on-line banking, filling out forms, shopping(?) can all time out before the transaction is complete on probably less than 4Mbps. I would also call software updates essential and they can sometimes by huge so could also time out on <4Mbps.

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Can anyone tell me about V4Telecom? they have offered me what appears to be an attractive package for my two home telephones + Broadband + mobile. However I cannot find any reference to them in Which or anywhere else.

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We were paying for 50 mb/s and were getting around 54 mb/s when got offered 200mb/s we went for it after a few weeks we found that we were not getting anything like 200 .
So rung them and were told that it was because are laptops were only 2g and we need new laptops that had 4g on them so we are lucky if we get the 50mb/s that we were paying for before we upgraded that`s with Virgin cannot wait for are contract to finish in december so we can move somewhere else.

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