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Is broadband advertising about to be reset?

Slow broadband

Many people are confused by broadband adverts and the speeds they promote. An even bigger problem is that only 10% of people may actually get those speeds. Do you think this is fair?

Like a lot of folk, when looking to set up my broadband I find it difficult to cut through the jargon to decipher what I actually need. I know I like watching Netflix when I get in from work but I don’t know how that translates to the speed I require.

While this is a barrier to feeling empowered as a consumer, an even bigger obstacle can loom large and it’s one we broadband customers have little control over. Until now, internet providers have been free to tell us the speeds they are offering to provide with no guarantee we will actually be able to get them.

Current guidance from the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) states that providers can advertise a broadband speed with ‘up to’ if only 10% of customers in the area can achieve it. We believe this isn’t fair and as such have been working to challenge this through our Broadband Speed Guaranteed campaign.

We want the majority of customers to get the speeds promised in ads, not just 10%.

A Which? win

Back in November 2016, the ASA and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) agreed with us that advertised speeds can mislead customers. This was welcome news. Furthermore, we worked hard to influence the Digital Economy Act which introduces a Universal Speed Obligation (USO), guaranteeing every single customer a minimum speed.

Today we’ve secured a milestone as the ASA and CAP have opened a consultation on speed claims in broadband advertising. We hope this will lead to a change in guidance that will require providers to give consumers a more transparent deal.

There are four options being considered for introduction across a range of different areas including a median download speed (available to at least 50% of consumers) as well as advertising a range of download speeds measured at peak time or over 24 hours.

Do you receive the broadband speeds advertised by your provider?

No (41%, 2,118 Votes)

Almost (25%, 1,281 Votes)

Some way off (24%, 1,220 Votes)

Yes (11%, 546 Votes)

Total Voters: 5,165

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Keeping the pressure on

We think it’s vital the ASA does not roll back after agreeing with us on misleading speeds. The outcome of this consultation therefore must propose significant change to help customers get the speeds they’re promised. After all, recent research by Which? found that 12.5 million households in the UK are frustrated with bad broadband services.

What do you think about advertising requirements for broadband providers? Did an advertised speed inform a purchase that left you disappointed? Have you felt misled by provider advertisements? Let us know what you think.

If you’re not sure what speed you’re getting, you can use our free broadband speed checker, which allows you to test performance, get advice, and complain about slow speeds.

Harry Tyler says:
6 May 2017

I live in Antrim, Northern Ireland, and have recently been set up with fibre broadband (EE). I only get a download speed of ±26mbps, irrespective of time of day. My telephone connection is underground. My son in Toronto has 100mbps download and a friend in Edmonton, Alberta (north-west Canada) has speeds of 180mbps, although he was offered 250mbps. How come we are so backward here in the UK?

Corina says:
6 May 2017

The same in most countries, even Brazil has better speeds out of the cities, but I think they should advertise minimum speeds,_ “we pledge not to go under X speed”
top speed ads are a joke and undoable even by some of the better providers.
( London UK)


I checked into local Edmonton speed tests ans companies as well as ordinary Canadian citizens commenting on their broadband there Harry and its all very well quoting figures from one area and one part of Edmonton but like the UK it isnt all sweetness and light there are just as many people complaining of slow broadband as here or in areas not supplied with FTTP but by copper/satellite etc. The same applies to Toronto.


Brazil Corina ? and have you checked to see how much is supplied via satellite/ microwave there ?


There are two issues here: the quality of the ISP’s provision; and the kind of network you are on.

The network issue is often attributed to the provider, when in most cases it’s out of their hands and any provider using the same delivery path will have a similar provision. So, if you have a 2 km-long copper cable from a fibre cabinet, any ISP connecting you to this cabinet will be struggling to give you the new minimum 10Mb connection. And if your in-home connections are poor, that will just make things worse – and these are your own responsibility.

That said, the way that ISPs manage their systems is also an issue. Contention (how many people share a line and how heavy each sharer’s usage is) and throttling (artificially limiting the priority of some users in favour of higher-paying users) are both policy decisions at the ISP, usually based on how much you’re willing to pay for your connection. So are the ISP’s reliability and customer service.

The UK is NOT backward; over 95% of users have a reliable, high-speed connection available if they want to pay for it. The problem is bridging the gap from there to 100% . Harry, your 26Mb is fine for all ordinary usage as long as it’s reliably provided (which is where changing ISP might help). Why might you want a 250Mb connection? Surely, you have exceptional needs if you are willing to pay the £60 a month that this would cost?


I endorse your comments David, especially your last paragraph. Due to the marketing tactics of the ISP’s, people have become fixated over speed when capacity and reliability are actually more important [I appreciate that they interact]. People requiring more than 20Mbps should really be expecting to pay extra for it and the provider should then arrange to increase the network capacity to ensure it. I also believe the generators of high-speed services [who profit from it] must make a contribution to the network capacity and resilience otherwise their activities are detrimental to other broadband users who are, in effect, subsidising it – they are actually paying for a substandard service!


I totally agree with you Davidlinnots. However, I pay for Fibre broadband and only receive speeds of between 6 and 9 mb/s when my “advertised” service is between 18 and 22 mb/s. My provider can do nothing – its down to BT copper cabling which is over several miles from my house.

I don’t have “heavy usage” – I just want reliable internet.


Nessie, As you are one of the 5% nobody wants to know about or pay for as the cost is enormous how do you think giving you FTTP , as that would cure your problem, would be achieved financially ?The actual cost to you alone , if you live miles from the cabinet which is what I have calculated you are=distance-v-speed, as you have FTTC could be up to £10,000 , this -we can do it for £500 doesnt work out for the 5 % who are the worst in distance in the UK from a cabinet . Nessie ? Scotland located ? if so the Scottish government helps with payments to BT via the Scottish tax payer or if you are in England then the majority of tax payers dont want to pay for it . BT cant afford many 10,s of £billions , neither will Virgin Media . With this new bill of minimum 10Mbps the only solution I can see is provide you with microwave radio broadband which is what happens in America /Brazil/ and many more countries . Brazil , for example , downloads via satellite to a main satellite ground station then fibre to smaller (ground only ) stations which then microwave the broadband to outlying areas. If any person disagrees with me then name the country which has -100 % FIBRE to the PREMISES ? and that includes the richest countries in the world . I would also like to hear , in down to earth engineering finance how it will be achieved , and yes I do know about BT,s efforts in gadgets to increase the speed of a copper line but maybe I am missing something here ? would any government spokesperson with inner engineering knowledge or BT spokesperson comment on how this will be done in REAL terms, no waffle, no bull, no propaganda, no politics, and no secret payments to A-NOTHER overseas company ? Not even Verizon the second biggest telecommunications company in the world ( China has the biggest ) has 100 % FTTP