/ 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

This comment was removed at the request of the user

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.

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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.

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.

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 📈

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…")

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

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.

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. 🙂

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.

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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.

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!

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.

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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…

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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?

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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!

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

I used to get almost 900Mbps upstream and downstream, but now this is all I get: http://www.speedtest.net/my-result/6237035096

Alan Lingard says:
22 April 2017

Come on Which? If you use the same amount of effort on that useless regulator OFCOM as you do on the banks we might get somewhere.
its a scandal that BT spend over 1Bn on football when they could get us all FTTP

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Sutherland. Drumbeg. 400 kilobytes . Yes kilobytes. No other providers available. Just Monopoly BT.
I thought the privatisation of BT was to prevent a monopoly. Oh! yes £15 per month.

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I tried making a complaint about my broadband speed using Which’s complaint form. But every time I clicked “submit” , it took me back two steps and asked me to put in my actual speed and the speed I was promised. Please attend to that form and make it work.

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There does seem to be different ISP attitude depending on whether you are a private or business user. In S Brum I have fibre to cabinet, then about 1/2 mile copper. Download always around 60 mbps., upload around 18mbps. But when TalkTalk upgraded me to fibre it suddenly became a business package – I don’t know how or why that happened. (When I first used the Which checker it came out at over 100mbps, which is way beyond the router capacity.)
So perhaps even more shopping around is indicated, and even trying the much mocked Talktalk group, about whom I have no complaints, lucky me!

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Yes, I’m probably paying a bit too much, but I also gets all landline calls free, and I’ve never yet- touch wood- had to contact anyone for any service problems.

What exactly are the Clowns in our Government doing about Broadband Speeds? Nothing. What exactly are BT doing about Broadband Speeds? Nothing. So the only option is to go Private with B4RN, many villages around the country are now going with this organisation which is based in Lancashire. What does this mean? well it is Fibre Optic with speeds of 30mbps costing £30 per month including VAT and line supplied and maintained by B4RN. This will of course mean that you WON’T have to use BT and it will eventually cut out BT’s business altogether. So good bye BT.

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This is so current for me at the moment. I have just had no choice but to renew my contract with BT. I have used your broadband speed checker. We are 1MBps. That is good. It is usually less than that, last time BT did their own test, it was too low to register! BT Openreach can offer us nothing. Virgin came to the next village 2 miles away and are not coming here with their fibre optics. We’ve been ditched and are ‘the land that time forgot’. There are 500 people here and we are 10 minutes from 2 major motorways yet BT told me yesterday that we’re lucky that even they bother to give us internet as other internet providers wouldn’t even touch us. Thanks BT!! We are less than 3 miles away from the exchange.

Yes, we’ve got together as a Community to look into the Community Fibre Partnership. We have provided all the information required. That was the beginning of February and we wait to hear from BT. They are in no hurry. Even if this is a yes and that is doubtful, we individually will have to pay 50% of getting fibre here which will cost ££££. It is a sad joke that we are quite possibly going to be thrown to the wolves to fend for ourselves and to endure never being able to download anything (it takes an hour and a half or more to download an hours programme, forget youtube links or any clips on social media), to warily try and make purchases online as it freezes and to try and explain to Easyjet that no you don’t want two seats on a flight, you just refreshed in the hope your purchase had gone through, to continually tell friends and family, no sorry I can’t watch that clip you sent me, I’ve lost the will to live whilst it’s buffering etc.

To add salt to the wound, BT have halved the discount they gave me last year on the internet bill. No reason. It has got worse in the last year but as they know we have no choice but to pay, they have taken advantage of that and taken it away . So our bill has gone up by £12 a month and that is on a contract that guarantees us 0MBps. Fact. I have it in writing.
I do not believe in the Government saying that 95% of the country will have speeds of 24MBps. I can drive to THREE major towns in less than 30 minutes and we have to exist on less than 1MBps.

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I’m not sure about the technicalities as far as FTTP or FTTC. I just know we have applied to the CFP (community fibre partnership) and we await on BT as the next stage in the scheme is for them to pledge to pay 50% of the cost and the community to pay the other half. But it hasn’t been agreed yet. I say it is going to be ££££ which is an assumption on my part but obviously it must be, or wouldn’t BT or Virgin have come here…. (Virgin talk of ‘unforeseen complications’ as to why they can’t put fibre here. They have done every single village in the last 6 months close to us. Just not us. Very galling and I have no idea what ‘unforeseen complications’ means)

We did look into microwave radio broadband I think… but the cost per household was really quite restrictive.

We’re waiting to hear from our local Councillor on what is happening with the latest rollout of fibre. The Council has approved the award of the contract to Gigaclear but it has to be approved. However, his seat is up in the local Elections so I don’t suppose he’s worried about this subject at the moment! (maybe it should be if he wants to get re-elected!)

I know you’re trying to help and I appreciate it. 🙂

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We live on the outskirts of a village near Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. We work from home; our broadband supplier is a small business supplier which was set up by a broadband technician brought in to upgrade our household internal telephone equipment after finding dial up impossible to work with a few years ago. Our Broadband has deteriorated badly in the last twelve months, to the point that it is almost like dial up. It keeps dropping out, sometimes takes ages to send/receive and downloading the occasional programme on TV takes all night. An urgent email at 7.30 am on a morning sometimes cannot be sent because we have to reset our modem. Some years ago a BT engineer told me that all the points on the line connections are rusty and badly need replacing, I asked how we could get this done; down to open reach to decide when, I was told. At that time Open Reach didn’t speak to members of the public, I tried!. Its so frustrating when trying to run our business and emails take an age to arrive, but then when it does work it is great, I cannot understand why this happens. Every time we complain and have to have an engineer come out we have to pay to be told that there isn’t much they can do because we are so far away from the box. They know about the problems but because we are semi rural and don’t live on an estate, nothing is done. We users have been paying for the use of these lines for years now, surely they should be made to have a policy to renew all old lines. Broadband is a way of life now, as the population grows, more of us oldies will be able to use the internet and everything will go on line so it is/will be as important as gas, electric and water.

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Gail Barry says:
25 April 2017

I live in a busy urban area, close to a big hospital and Stormont, our Parliament, but I can’t get a good broadband speed. I was with PlusNet last year, the download speed was around 2Mbps and it kept crashing. They charged me horribly big bills, I was on a contract £33 a month, one month they asked for £68. I tried Sky and Virgin but they couldn’t even connect so I finally went to BT. I used them a few years ago but their bills were too large and they kept hiking the price. At least they are the main suppliers who own most of the phone lines so I’ve finally got a, so far, good service. Might my area be overloaded with so many big users around?

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For anyone contemplating, getting a contract with Utility Warehouse, for broadband/phone services, my experience this year 2016/2017, is as given,
massive problems contacting their member services, 26 minute wait , for a phone to be answered, then to be cut off when being transferred to the relevant dept. more delayed waiting times, Emails unanswered, but they did call back days later, at times inappropriate, even though the same caller, was given times, we could take the calls,No avail.
Good news I swapped to Zen, 13/4/ not a hiccup, no delays in phones being answered,
seamless swap. great technical support, on two occasions, (router set up,and landline probs) Conclusion,, Probably , the best I S P provider.
historical past providers
A O L
B T
Be There. Pity they were bought out by Sky
Plusnet
Utility Warehouse.

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Christine says:
26 April 2017

Living in rural south west WaChles, we have extremely slow broadband, constantly dropping out, only one of us at any one time can use the internet. BT have put cable at post’s in the valley, but so far we have not been contacted to say when they will be taking orders!! When we complain to BT, we get no improvements in this issue!! Using Which checker, results are Download 3.8 MBPS, Upload 1.3 MBPS!! EE mobile reception is just as bad!! Companies have no knowledge of living without acceptable internet or mobile coverage.