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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.


Other Convos on this topic have pointed out the technicalities of broadband speeds that result in the outcomes of different consumers – line length, traffic, home installation details and others that experts have discussed. These need to be taken into account and a workable outcome achieved. There is no point in promoting a popular campaign for something that is not soundly based.

We also need a means of determining the speed a provider will generally give at our individual premises, rather than relying on a general advert’s claims. I may be wrong, but I thought this could be checked by a potential provider. This is far more valuable to me than arguing about a general claim. If this can be done, then this is what customers should be encouraged to have checked before they decide – an advert can tell them how to get this done.

Those who provide products on the internet should, I believe, state the minimum speed at which their product is designed to work – if they don’t already.

I had my speed checked by potential suppliers only to find large differences in results, usually biased on the side of the potential provider.
I know roughly what speed to expect in my area and treat the provider’s advertised speeds and claims with the contempt they deserve.

I think you bill should represent your BB speed. ie if you only get on average 80% of the advertised speed you should only pay 80% of your bill, this would buck up your BB provider.

Paul, do you mean that the suppliers’ 10% claims are lies? If so, they need to be reported to the ASA. I did think, though, that the 10% claims had to be based on actual day-to-day measurements, stored and available for inspection.

Norman, that sounds good – but it would put up the bills of everyone living nearer to the exchange. In effect, people living in the country but with an adequate speed (say, 30Mb on fibre from an up to 250Mb connection) could get a very cheap service compared to their in-town friends who only use the same bandwidth and speed, but – because they have 250Mb possible, are charged five times more.

Providers have almost no control over the speed you get, so they can’t change this.

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I’m with Virgin Media and am supposed to be getting 150Mps, but when I did a speed check the other day it came out at about 8Mps! I rang to complain and they ‘updated’ my router, then a second speed check boosted it to 86Mps. When I asked why it still was only half the advertised speed I was told that it was because I was using WiFi, not a cable. Of course they don’t make this clear when signing you up to their system!

This is an easy and simplistic dismissal excuse. There is some truth in it, but my testing over several years in my environment has found no difference in speed between wireless and Ethernet (cable) when the router is in the same room. However, others have found different. When investigating WiFi speed connection, I moved my router to another part of the house about 15 meters away (2 stud partitions and a floor) and still found the same WiFi speed as it being in the same room. Anyway, who wants a 15 meter Ethernet cable!
What I have found is that when I didn’t get the ‘guaranteed’ speed from my supplier, an engineer came out to test it, found the correct speed at the ‘prime’ socket, but the lower one elsewhere on my network which is distributed from the ‘prime’ socket. On his further investigation he found that that the telecoms stand into my house was ‘wired up the old way, we haven’t done it that way for nearly 20 years.’ However, I couldn’t let him wire it up to the ‘new’ standard as it would have meant disconnecting our house alarm then getting the alarm company to reconnect it for a serious call out fee (and loss of security while they found the time to visit as it wasn’t an ’emergency’). So we end up with slower than promised, (just over 10%) but still adequate for all our needs.

Surely the contract is for the primes socket to be the one tested – what happens elsewhere in the house is surely not the ISP’s problem??

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I wasn’t suggesting anything else, just pointing out a possibility. As I said, the engineer was willing to rewire the stand there and then for no cost, but as the 10% loss in speed wasn’t worth the cost of calling out the alarm engineer (not to mention the possible cost in having the risk of an unprotected property) I didn’t bother.

Kevin says:
5 May 2017

Frankly Which? Has got this all wrong. There is little point berating ISPs on speed performance when speed performance is entirely predicate by BT Openreach’s local copper networks. It is they Which? should be campaigning about. BTOR’s local network is more often than not the cause of a failure to deliver advertised speeds.

For ADSL there are far too many long lines – technology which places ADSL exchange equipment closer to remote premises need to be deployed – all exchanges ought to be capable of delivering ADSL2 (many do not) – there needs to be more FTTC cabinets installed in rural and semi-rural (light urban) areas as the performance of that technology serious degrades on cabinet to home distances greater than 700m.

No ISP can deliver better performance unless BTOR’s infrastructure is proficient. The idea that switching ISP will deliver better speed is a myth Which? ought to be exposing.

Really do think Which? do not really understand the real world issues, something this campaign will not fix.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Far too often BT is used as the whipping boy, especially by the other big players, one of whom is only just starting to invest in a backbone, another one bought the company that had invested in the past. Openreach might be owned by BT but it appears the other companies want BT to put the money in and they get a free ride. I am no great lover of the way BT customer service works but on this point I support them, get the other companies to pay into Openreach to invest in the national backbone.

I am currently discussing my broadband speed with the provider – it is slower now than in 2014. That the ASA was ever allowed to give providers carte blanche on speeds by means of the “10%” rule is just one example of successive governments’ failure to police toothless – but expensive – quangos.

Whatever happened to the bonfire? No sign of the link between “consultation” and “long grass” being broken any time soon.

Steve says:
5 May 2017

The results page of your speed test does not list all providers, surely there should be a “not listed” option or the option to name an unlisted supplier

Time to introduce a variable rate tariff so you pay for what you get, that should sharpen up broadband providers.

Glenn Fryer says:
5 May 2017

I think that should apply to mobile phone coverage also …..

I strongly agree. If the ISP can only provide a maximum 2.5Mbs ( As in my area) then surely they should not expect me to pay for the advertised maximum of 17Mbs. Based on this sliding scale I should only be paying around 20% of what I am being charged. Each ISP can tell you what the expected speed should be so why charge you for a higher speed? Surely the real problem is NOT line speed but what speed you are paying for.

Fake speeds a bit like the Volkswagen approach. It does not help that all three speed tests I use come up with sometimes quite different results. Virgin support is bizarre with their surreal calling handling system (we will now run some tests – oh they seem to be taking longer etc) – they never find anything wrong! It seems with Virgin you sign up for 200Mbs but you cant use it because when you wish to download a large file or movie you get traffic managed which they deny and produce all sorts of reasons why it is running slow. The main performance area that matters is reliability ( BTW I found out that my computer cant handle more that 100Mbs anyway!). It is Ofcom that needs to tackle the Broadband oligopoly and the fake figures they produce and the poor service they provide.

Patrick, speed tests vary because they all make slightly different decisions about how and what to measure. And the exact time of day, busyness of local traffic, your own home connection and so on, all have an effect. The Which? tester is one of the more optimistic ones; try ThinkBroadband’s tester for another approach.

The figures provided by ISPs are legally required to be both accurate and provable. So do challenge them with the ASA or the courts, if you want to call them liars – and be prepared to back up your opinion with evidence to avoid slander lawsuits!

Graham says:
5 May 2017

we where guaranteed 2.00mbs min.speed by BT. WHEN WE SIGNED UP OUR TOP SPEED HAS BEEN 0.83 MBS talk about being ripped off .can’t even watch a news video clip never mind download films etc.

See my reply to Andrea above, it could be the way your stand is wired. Did a BT engineer visit to investigate?

Garry Hammond says:
5 May 2017

It would be helpful if employees/contractors of telecoms/ISP companies would identify themselves as such in each contribution they make to this discussion. People are making some very useful and valid contributions about the engineering aspects of delivering internet service, but the discussion will be tainted if it is dominated by providers rather than customers.

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John B says:
5 May 2017

I agree Paul, I am regularly getting around 1.4 Mbps download speed. When I complained to my provider ( BT ) the agent told me I was lucky to be able to get that, I asked him when the service would be improved & he said there are no plans to & suggested trying 4G, I can`t get thar either

It’s not just the speed thats a problem, in my case the ISP actually buys their broadband from Talk Talk who throttle the internet.

Rob Edwards says:
5 May 2017

I use Talktalk, at the moment I get 14 to 16 Mbs, which is Ok for me. Come end of contract they always try to sell me their very fast speed packages. I keep pointing out in our village we still have copper wire from exchange to house, and these speeds you quote will never happen until fibre optics installed. These people are reading from scripts and have no idea what I talking about, but still continue to push their packages. Yes, so I am not happy with how these companies conduct themselves whilst seling these packages to potentional customers.

I have had Virgin Media for many many years and, apart from the occasional glitch (most of which seem to be caused by third parties) I have had rock steady high speed broadband throughout.. Do I get the advertised 200Mbps ? No, it rarely dips below 210Mbps 24/7 – the old adage you get what you pay for…just wish they would improve their customer services

I support this Which? campaign because the ASA needs to take action to introduce honest advertising of broadband services. There is no need for the companies to quote an ‘up to’ speed and I do not understand why anyone thought that it would be acceptable to claim speeds that could be achieved by as few as 10% of customers.

When I first had a broadband service I was disappointed and someone in customer services told me I should be happy with a speed that was at best 10% of the ‘up to’ figure. When I politely but firmly told them that I was not happy, there was a prompt increase. It was well below the ‘up to’ speed but at least sufficient to let me use iPlayer.

My ISP dropped its ‘up to’ claim after numerous complaints, including a few from me. Instead it provided a speed range that I could expect to achieve and while my speed was nearer the lower figure, the information I was provided with was honest. I stopped making complaints to this local company and started complementing them, even though my broadband had not changed, just the marketing.

My suggestions for ISPs are:

1. Invite prospective customers to obtain an estimate of speed for their address or the one they are planning to move to.

2. Allow customers to leave without penalty if the service proves unsatisfactory because of poor speeds, frequent disconnections or other valid reasons. (Problems due to internal wiring faults, interference with a Wi-Fi router signal or other factors that are not within the control of the company would NOT be valid reasons for leaving without penalty.)

wavechange, I agree that your proposals are sensible and useful.

Prompted by this convo, I ran the Which? speedtest yesterday daytime and, with same laptop, got download speeds from PlusNet of 8.6 Mbs on wifi and 18Mbs on a wired connection. Neither of those were with my router on my BT master socket and with the rest of the house disconnected. I might try that option another time.

If we’re all going to get really keen on monitoring our speeds, we’ll all want to buy (or build) “smart meter” routers that log all of our usage (and its speed) and output the resulting data.

Old gits like myself would probably want that output to be via some sort of nice cheap and human readable form like a “till roll” strip chart recorder. Bright young things will, of course, want it to be via a smartphone app.

Some ISPs might even consider the option of pricing based on the speeds between the smart router and the network. However, the formulae required would most likely be a bit complicated. Hence they would be of little or no help to those currently unable to compare energy tariffs.

Thanks Derek. When I had copper broadband in my previous home, using a wired connection gave a slightly faster download speed – maybe 10%. It looks as if interference could be affecting your WiFi signal. I have read that some routers can be switched to different channels to help overcome interference problems, though I have not done this.

Being one of the ‘old gits’ I happen to have a six channel roll recorder going spare. 🙂 I’m not clever enough to turn it into a broadband speed recorder. Data logging is mostly electronic these days and I wonder if ISPs do long term recording on customers’ lines where customers claim that there is an intermittent problem that does not show up under test.

My laptop does not take a wired connection unless I buy an adaptor, and this will probably become standard. I’ve got an older laptop with the relevant socket and the relevant lead but it’s going to become increasingly difficult for customers to check for local interference before complaining to their ISP.

Thank you for a sane summary, wavechange. I did think, though, that your two suggestions were already an Ofcom requirement. Am I wrong?

DerekP, sign up with ThinkBroadband, and you’ll get the ‘smart router’ service you want. I have my test results recorded with them since 2008, and it’s proven very useful when PlusNet were arguing with BT Wholesale on my behalf to supply them with hard data to back up my claim of a poor local line.

davidinnotts – thanks – that is useful info.

wavechange – my router is only a “wireless g” one – so that probably accounts for most of the speed difference. Modern “wireless n” routers ought to operate much faster wifi. Traffic over wifi also has to be encrypted and decrypted; that must add a further burden…

Later today, I might try swapping my current router for my spare (even older) one, to see if that has any discernable effect on test speed.

I’ve also noticed that my results are about 3Mbs higher if I use the Which? test page, as opposed to the one recommended by Duncan.

That’s an elderly router, Derek. When I changed my broadband contract years ago, my ISP provided me with my first wireless router that operated to the n standard. I agree that the Which? speed test produces high figures, and several have commented on this. Using WiFi I’m currently getting 62.5Mbps and paying for 50Mbps. Speedtest.net gives 51.4. I’ve mislaid the link to the one provided elsewhere by Duncan.

I had been with Virgin for around 6 years. I NEVER GOT THE BROADBAND SPEED I WAS PAYING FOR. In the end I had had enough of their lies and slow broadband. Would never go with that company again.

Living in a ” NOT SPOT ” my Broadband is via satellite link. As such it is a fact of life that one has to pay a premium for the service ( around £69 for 40GB /month ) Alas , as demand for the service has increased over the years so the download speed has decreased from a healthy 18 MB/sec to around 3/4 MB/sec now. The provider operates a ” fair usage ” policy but the fact of the matter the service is simply oversubscribed. In as much as I find the situation irksome ” half a loaf of bread ——- ” and being retired it does not have such an effect upon myself as the youth of the area. In as much as the parents have to wait up into the early hours of the morning to submit online work for their school children as at these ungodly hours not only does the speed increase but the data submitted does not count against ones allocated allowance. 4G – huh !- not even 3G – the only ” G’s ” around here are the gee-gee’s on the mountains ! And people wonder why the youth flock to the cities .

It would be ok if we could get 1meg all the time but we often get as low as 0.4meg in our area, we know we have a 5 kilometer copper wire from the nearest exchange but BT have promised to improve this for the last 5 years only to come up with more FALSE delays. The money for this work has been “in the pot” provide by us suffering taxpayers for all this time but all we get are excuses.

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We should nationalise Broadband and then we could have a Universal service obligation like we used to with telephones when they were provided by the Post Office.

If you have access to a phone line you also have access to broadband, except you may not get the speed you want. To make a particular higher speed available to everyone, no matter where they live, will cost someone a lot of money. Should the taxpayer fund that – and at the expense of what other public services?

My difficulty with all this is that I, up until recently when I changed to fibre on a good deal, I did everything I needed to do on broadband with a speed less than 4 Mbps – shopping, banking, insurance and tax renewals etc – all the normal household jobs. However if I watched a video or iplayer for example it would buffer from time to time; but as these are not essential services that the taxpayer should help I do not see the argument for publicly-funded high speed.