/ 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.

Comments
Member

As this isnt going to end and appears to be a “Righteous Cause ” -picture a golden armored knight riding into a blazing sunset with a big cross emblazoned on the front , with crowds crying in the background , shouting –you will do it -you will save us oh Great+ Noble One , then what I want to know is simple- WHO-PAYS ??? . Only practical, down to earth, costed by engineering accountancy will be acceptable to me . I hope you dont expect the “evil BT ” to pay 10,s of £billions for FTTP to remote areas and those believing the propaganda- it can be done for £500 PLEASE break this down for me for remote customers , where I and another team mate(two man party + plus pole erection team , in REALITY , not dreams spent TWO days( not including the pole installations ) on ONE remote farm with 12 span of overhead wiring , over a river, through a small Forrest , even the vans got bogged down in the mud . Are You the tax payers going to pay-nope – how about HMG – nope -1 less nuke sub ? etc etc – dont think so . so reality please not dreams and conjecture. The ONLY answer- Microwave/ radio , but hang on are Virgin Media shareholders saying -oh yes we will do it ?-dont think so.

Member

I have no doubts whatsoever that Duncan’s views are genuinely held, but of course his claim that “microwave and radio is the only answer” is fundamentally-flawed thinking. The biggest problem is that the incumbent provider – BT Openreach – is driven by profit and spreadsheets, not the strategic needs of the country, so if infrastructure improvement isn’t going to give BT a profit, it doesn’t happen.

Seven years ago, New Zealand had the same problem, and the Government decided that the private sector should not obstruct the economic development of the whole country. So it set up a new incumbent, Crown Fibre Holdings, 100%-owned by the state, and after seven years, 67% of residential premises, 97% of business premises, and 100% of schools all have a FTTP (fibre to the premises) connections, not FTTC (fibre to the cabinet), which is a flawed technology wholly unsuitable for rural areas because those more than 1km from the nearest cabinet – a huge proportion of rural properties – cannot get more than 30Mbps. The FTTC roll-out, supported by hundreds of millions of pounds of State Aid in many rural areas, was simply a way of stretching out the revenue stream from BT’s ageing copper infrastructure.

There are 31 countries in the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and in relation to FTTP, the UK is 31st – last! Seven years ago, New Zealand was last, it is now 11th, and on track to be 5th by 2022.

And radio-based superfast broadband schemes? They might well work, but the high capital cost and low revenue yield means that they aren’t viable over the long term – the speeds are limited by the technology and schemes aren’t profitable enough for their next requirement for technology refresh. If you have any doubts, Google “A B Internet”, a provider of radio-based schemes that went into administration last Friday.

Compare that with Broadband for the Rural North, a not-for-profit cummunity benefit society that has quietly been providing FTTP broadband for £30/month in rural areas for a number of years, and now has over 3,000 customers enjoying 1Gbps upload and download – yes, you read that correctly, 1Gbps! And they have never received a single penny in State Aid, because State Aid rules do not allow such community initiatives to own and operate their networks – they only permit a third party commercial provider to do so, which of course takes a profit, thereby making the business case in areas where market failure has already occurred even less viable.

Member

Grace , have you read all my other “outpourings ” on this subject ? what did I say ?? -WHO PAYS — and after checking into New Zealand -Crown Fibre Holdings guess who pays ??– the New Zealand TAX payer and what have I and others said ?? that UK citizen will NOT pay for FTTP but if you have “insider ” info then I will listen intently to you telling me TM + all her cabinet have decided to pay for 100 % FTTP for ALL those long rural lines of copper (the 5 % ) . Population of New Zealand ?? slightly LESS than Scotland , and Scotland ?? less than 10 % of the UK so £1.5 billion goes a lot farther in New Zealand than it does in Britain . Yes I do post sincerely otherwise I would be no better than your average politician. By a large majority the British public are not prepared to pay extra tax for FTTP but if you want to make it a election issue I would certainly not go against you. Even more damming evidence – rural population of New Zealand =2% of population at (approx ) 5 million ( 2006 ) = 100,000 – divide that by numbers in each house -say 3 members = 33 thousand (approx ) so 33000 have £1.5 billion spent on them .

Member

Until I recently changed to fibre (at cabinet) with a decent deal, I was on copper and below 4Mbps. As a private user I did all I needed to do online – banking, on-line forms, purchasing, grandkids homework….. None of this took exceptional time.So I don’t quite understand why I must have 10 Mbps or more. I got buffering on films sometimes, and don’t download big files like music – but I don’t regard those as “essentials”.

If you choose to live in Devon, and have a particular requirement for broadband speed, then you should check before you move and find an area that suits you. I don’t suppose £30 a month for P VS is going to break his bank if he must have 20 Mbps.

Businesses are in the same position – if broadband is essential and therefore contributes to your profits, invest some of those profits in paying for it.

This seems like another headline-grabbing Which? campaign from an author who never replies to direct questions. Short on real facts, long on generalisations, and with no information on who should pay to provide this service, and where that money is going to come from. I certainly don’t want to subsidise speeds that are not necessary for basic internet use, nor to provide a “cheap” high speed service to those who have chosen to live in particular areas.

If the example of a particular farmer needing to complete a form has to occasionally visit a local internet cafe, what is wrong with that? Not really different from the day he had to visit his bank, and no doubt some have to physically go to market.

There are far more worthy causes for my taxes. Perhaps running a more equitable social care system for example.

Member

It’s alright, Malcolm. UK broadband coverage and speed is so dire throughout the country that there will be very little response to this Conversation.

Member

There again, it is the end of the week, so a verbal diarrhoea invite will be going out soon for the weekend onslaught ………….. 💩

Got to keep those stats up 📈

Member

This Convo seems a repeat with the same lack of decent information or proposals – and the same author. “Broadband must be superfast for everyone” July ’16. Do we think the entitlement to broadband exceeds that of mains gas, mains drainage, or even a decent bus service? P VS doesn’t seems happy about paying £30 a month to get 20 Mbps; why not? Who does he think should pay for his service. I did quite successfully what I needed on a service that ran around 3.2 Mbps accessing the basic tasks I need to complete.

There seems to be misinformation – Aberech quoted as <2Mbps, but BT pointing out most homes have access to fibre with more work currently in hand ("The early bird catches the broadband") and curious justifications for speed – "thanks to my shoddy broadband I may never know what happens in the final scenes of JK Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I rented last weekend."(Bad broadband? You’re not alone…")

Member

Quite so, Alfa. The irony of that wasn’t lost in my comment.

Member

I’m sorry we’ve not managed to convince on this one. It’s true that a decent broadband isn’t considered essential for everyone and I’m pleased to hear that the service you receive is suitable.

Broadband is very much seen as the fourth utility. Of course there are the extreme examples of how poor broadband is holding people back, like the farmer example used here, but there are a great many people who cannot carry out simple tasks like emailing or online banking. And as you well know, areas of consumer detriment drive the direction of our campaigns work and we know that poor broadband causes severe frustration for many people.

The purpose of our speed checker is to give those with broadband frustrations the tool to test their own speed – in some cases, as Duncan often explains to people, it can be down to other factors like the positioning of your router, and so we have a guide to explain how to improve speeds yourself. We are also using the speed checker to build our own picture of what connectivity looks like across the UK. I appreciate that there’s a need for more in depth explanation of solutions to our campaigns. While we do start off all of our campaigns with aims and roadmaps to achieve them, we do also need the input of those affected by the situation to help guide us as well as increase the pressure to force change.

Member

Thanks Lauren. Mainly because I like to see factual, informative and properly argued cases, which I don’t think this is. I can be convinced when balanced arguments are put forward. Don’t give up on me. 🙂

Member
NickG says:
22 April 2017

Clearly you don’t live in a rural area. I do live in rural Devon and on a good day we get 1.2 Mbs and this does affect what we can do. Forget streaming video or catchup TV, it takes nearly as long to set up an online shop as it does to drive the 5 miles to the nearest supermarket and do it in person. And on the subject of paying, lets not forget that we don’t pay any Iess than you do for the service, we just get less of it. I also assume that you’re happy for me to carry on paying for your street lights and road gritting even though we don’t get these?

As a final point, it has taken 25 minutes, literally, to make this comment via this interactive form because of the poor speed of the connection and limited type ahead. I doubt I have the patience to have any more views heard.

Member

What you are talking about NickG is the basic copper service and that is entirely down to distance from the cabinet , so if you are near to the cabinet then on a non-FTTC you could get up to approx 8/10Mbps but typically half that but if you are over a mile from it , dont expect much of a speed . Those with higher speeds are paying extra for FTTC and some have FTTP , they invoke higher broadband package charges . Electricity is transmitted locally at 230V AC (approx ) the AC pressure involved (high voltage ) ensures that you get that at your house. Your telephone line is powered by 50V DC so is affected by distance . Gas has a steady pressure unless there is a gas leak so you cant use the two public utilities (which the internet is not ) as a means of criticising your broadband speed.

Member

There are presumably advantages to living in rural Devon (and other pleasant parts of the country), as well as known disadvantages that you have traded. Maybe mains gas, drainage, bus service, distance to schools…….. If faster broadband has not yet made it to your part of the world then no doubt it will eventually. I imagine you have not lost the service. or seen a deterioration, but are just waiting for it to improve.

Member
ethicalpeter says:
15 May 2017

I think you are right. My mum has a flat in the centre of Rye which is poor compared to where I live in Rye Foreign. Although I live further from the Bt exchange I get a far better broadband speed. Most of the properties in Rye are ancient where as I live on a 1980s/1990s estate. Utterly amazing!

Member

Continuous moaning without suggestions on how faster broadband is going to be achieved gets us nowhere.

I was impressed by B4RN that was mentioned by Norman Silcock on April 10th.
https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/fix-bad-broadband-speed-test/#comment-1482848
https://b4rn.org.uk/

If the rural north west can do it so can others with the right incentives.

Member

Alfa , you have every right to be impressed with B4RN – shock horror !! Lucas is recommending another ISP that is not BT , so all my detractors –take note – I am even handed , only very choosy+ critical. You get your own fixed IP address ( usually reserved for businesses only by other ISP,s ). Your telephone connection is VoIP but you need an uninterruptible power supply to keep your router working for it , if you cease BT,s Line . YOU must provide all the ducting etc from your land boundaries to your home/business/farm and it must be up to standard , when I worked for BT we got special underground REINFORCED cable from the DP (distribution point ) -pole /wall box etc and the private householder just dug a 6 inch trench to his house . That is NOT available from B4RN only normal fibre as well as a deep trench , and of coarse , you need friends/family to do it and obviously if the ducting involves other peoples land -permission from them -NOT always a given . But , yes a very good idea and seemingly good service IF you get on with your neighbours as you might need their help . I am impressed and very few businesses can make me feel that way . For those wanting more detail I will post their info webpage : https://b4rn.org.uk/faqs/

Member

You’re right Alfa, but see my comment above, in relation to State Aid. Other schemes want to emulate B4RN’s success but more quickly, but it’s virtually impossible because State Aid isn’t available for such schemes. It’s not uncommon for community schemes to start off down the BDUK State Aid path and then withdraw because the figures just don’t add up when you factor in the provider’s profit.

Yet millions of pounds in State Aid were provided to BT for rural superfast broadband, and in many areas it just hasn’t happened – “white areas” are where complete market failure has occurred and there are no plans whatsoever by anyone to provide superfast broadband. In many of these areas, there is no fibre infrastructure whatsoever, yet since the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, where the need for these was spelled out, BDUK has been desperate for the Alt-Net (alternative network) providers to invest in more fibre networks – but the State Aid rules haven’t changed.

And you know what they say about someone who keeps doing the same thing over and over again, each time expecting a different result…

Member

Initiative, alfa. And a sensible price. Constructive proposals should be included by Convo authors, rather than whipping up the masses. Perhaps if Which? spent more time and (our) money doing the groundwork we might have more helpful campaigns. At the moment they are still trying to get a petition increased for Whirlpool to recall all affected products – but no explanation as to how, or what it might achieve. But then, my background is science and engineering, not advertising and marketing.

Member

Broadband is becoming as essential an aspect of life as is the telephone and possibly more so. I’ve already pointed out that content providers are now tailoring their wares with the assumption that everyone enjoys at least 7mbps (there’s a reason for that) and increasingly, formerly physically accessible services are expecting everyone to be able to use the internet. GP visits over t’interent are not as far off as some might imagine and, although some hark (fondly?) back to the days of 56kbps saying they could do everything they wanted then and wonder why all the moaning now, the reality is that faster speeds are now necessary, if for no other reason than content providers are now loading their pages with mobile graphic advertising which hogs bandwidth to the extent that it becomes difficult to even read an article without waiting until the snappy animations of cute kittens and deranged postmen come to their inevitable conclusions.

So why yet another article? Well, I’m assuming it’s because this is specifically an information gathering exercise, and most of that information will be drawn from the BB speed checker results. And the article is intending to use that information to aid in the W? campaign for super-fast broadband. It’s true not everyone wants or needs high speed broadband, and some might be more than happy to potter away with 56kbps, which is fine for them. But there are many for whom it is far from fine and Openreach in particular needs to be prodded sharply to ensure that everyone can get what they continue to advertise.

As an example, I spoke with a BT technician who had located a fault on my line recently, and he confirmed that bringing fibre optic to the box which serves us was both relatively cheap and very easy: the ducting exists already and there are lines already above the roads leading from the exchange. We were promised it three years ago and we’re still waiting.

Member

Ian-If it was that simple and easy as the BT technician said then the only thing holding it back is cost-v- profitability-ie- the number of subscribers justifying installing fibre , that is how many cabinets have not been uprated to fibre because they provide for the largest number of subscribers first . Exchange side telephone lines always go underground at some point , when was the last time you saw 1000,s of telephone lines on overhead wiring go straight into the exchange ? Having the capability to do something isn’t always achievable in a commercial sense due to constraints of one sort or another . Could you give me practical suggestions as to how Openreach can “improve ” ?

Member

Frankly,. Duncan, I believe they should do what they promise – provide high speed BB. It’s not that difficult to do, here. And certainly affordable for them – we’re shareholders, so we see the profits.

Member

Information is important to these discussions. I haven’t digested this Ofcom report, but here it is, and it seems a pity Which? did not think to provide a link to it. Why deny people access to relevant facts? It might bolster the case they try to make, or it might not. Either way, I’d rather not be pushed by an emotive intro.
https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0015/100761/UK-home-broadband-performance,-November-2016-Technical-report.pdf

If the information in this report is robust then why do we think Which? with a Convo and a (claimed) dubious speed checker will provide a better picture than the experts? I would have thought working with data like this, and those who produce it, would be a better use of Which?’s resources.

Member

Thanks for the link malcolm , a lot of statistical info is provided on a % basis , but two points . #1- Virgin Media gets higher % of speed on average -why ? well consider a model “T” Ford and a Buick, Ford started off with a basic design much cheaper but along comes Buick and produces a much higher performance vehicle , in other words we are not talking about a level playing field here , VM came in much later with more modern cable -first co-ax now fibre from the start and , as you know, but has NOT been made apparent VM covers most of the profitable areas of the UK leaving BT looking as though its “not up to scratch ” a sly -media/ government move, as BT covers most of Britain . #2- I have posted several times the REAL figures of distance-v- speed from a FTTC installation , where are OFCOM,s figures there ? This looks a bit “slight of hand” to me.

Member

The requirement for ever-increasing faster broadband is fuelled by online viewing of heavy usage TV/film/video viewing.

Why are these monopolising companies not made to pay towards improved broadband services?

Member

If people want to view these then they should pay for the fast broadband required. My point is these are far from “essential” and I don’t want to subsidise the users from my taxes. I’d like to see the justification for a minimum speed of broadband that allows what many see as “essential” tasks to be accomplished in a reasonable time.

Member

I agree malcolm.

Member

If you pay more for a faster service, won’t the money just go to your ISP?

I am suggesting the companies who put out heavy usage pay towards upgrading services.

Member
Will Barrett Soliz says:
21 April 2017

I’m interested to know the best provider. But really I need to know best package or can you have separate tv phone and broadband? The review does not mention this. I’ve been with Talktalk too long?

Member

Will recommending a telephone company is not an easy thing to do as none are perfect and if one of the regulars recommended one and you were not happy it would not look good. As you can see from the many convo,s +posts every ISP gets highly criticised . I will give you the reasons I am with BT – its the biggest telephone company in the UK , its knowledge base is vast, in my case they have listened to me when I complain , and although it might take a bit of time they fix the problem , they have a lot more to lose prestige wise than other providers as its always BT that is put forward in the media to be put down . Regardless of the publicity if you really check the figures BT is doing a lot to install FTTC , a lot more than all the others who only want profitable areas and wont outlay to remote areas. Virgin Media get a good write up but even there you get posters complaining of service and their very fast speeds (in % terms ) is because they started from a much later network installation base than BT so installed co-ax and fibre so BT has to cope with remote copper lines . Its going to take a brave poster to recommend a full telephone package , but I will stick with BT .

Member
L McGregor says:
21 April 2017

I live about 8 miles south of Glasgow. Suburbia, definitely not rural and yet because we are on an exchange only line we cannot achieve speeds much above 6 or 7mb ( around 4 tends to be our average though). It is frustrating that someone literally two streets away can get speeds of 40mb and above because they have fibre to cabinet. EO lines seem not to be a priority 🙁 and we have no other options as our area isn’t cabled. It could be years before we get super fast let alone ultra fast!

Member

As I have posted before L.Mc Gregor its a big job converting your EO line to fibre , involving installing 2 cabinets -DSLAM + installing all new ducting, cable runs , Wayleave permissions , digging up council roads avoiding utility services , safety concerns about locating cabinets, and even then for FTTC not all subscribers will get the full benefits until testing is done with the new installations so customers could be let down if they are a good distance from the installed cabinets .