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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.


We used by some years ago and they did not supply the right speeds it was like dial up and robbed our bank account of more money than theyou should have .so we got rid of them .we are with a good company that we have been with over 5yrs.

I haven’t the foggiest idea what speed my broadband operates at. How does anyone know these things without being a techie?

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Hi Duncan Lucas. thanks for your good advise and help to all. Where do we check the speed… on TV or any pc/laptop please? I am supposed to have 100Mbp from Virgin and when my sons play PS4 games, it keeps stopping in the middle of the games. Also, I have to turn off my mobile and re-start it again sometimes more than once a day as the Internet is lost?… May thanks

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Hi Yola,

If you have a PS4 that is stopping in the middle of games, this may be a problem with wifi and not with Virgin.

I have some friends who live in a house where the Virgin Router is in the living room. Wifi performance is poor in all but the nearest bedrooms. For the eldest son’s Xbox, a 15m long network cable did, however, sort a similar problem with the playability of games.

Anyone who is familiar with statistics would see clearly that the advertised speed should be attained by at least 68% of customers (Standard Deviation of 1) for it to mean anything.

Hi Miles,

I consider myself to be familiar with simple statistics.

From that basis I quite like the suggestion that the advertised speed should be the median value. I think that’s a whole lot better than the current position, where the advertised speed need only be gained by 10% of customers. (Perhaps that would be termed the most upper decile or words to that effect.)

If I have understood your proposal, then you are assuming that speeds will be symmetrically distributed about some mean value, according to a “normal” or “gaussian” distribution. Then, if the advertised speed were 1 standard deviation below the mean, at least 68% of customers would receive this. In fact, customers receiving more than 1SD above the mean would not be included in the 68%, so actually then all but 16% of customers would get the advertised speed (or higher).

Hence I do also like your proposal.

In practice, I doubt that the distribution would either be symmetric or gaussian, but I don’t think that actually detracts from the key principle of your suggestion.

I have changed to BT after years of misery on Virgin Media, it was full speed while I was not at home, slow after 6pm and nothing after 8pm. Now I have only 12 Mbps, but that’s all the time no slowing down, I was using 4G when Virgin was down every night at about 30 to 40 Mbps, but costing a bomb. To be fair, I had lots of help from Virgin to change over to BT, the staff being so embarrassed at the poor performance of their network.

When I moved here BT said I would get between 29.5 and 32Mb but within a day of the installation it dropped to 2Mb. This went on for months until I emailed BT and said they had breached their contract and if I didn’t get the claimed minimum 29.5Mb within 7 days then the payments would stop. Four days later they replaced the line from the pole to the house and from then I got a minimum 31.5Mb I intend to move soon so Broadband will be my main concern as I use it a lot.

Mine is so slow that the speed checkers can’t check it. A pity as I have a fast computer which is totally wasted.

Why do you refer to always as Lang? That is my surname. My name is Graham Lang. Therefore if you wish any reply from me get my forename correct. I am not usually referred to as Lang. When I am referred as Graham I might respond

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Not given an option of saying ‘I do not know’ regarding broadband speeds

I do too wanted the option of “I can’t remember what they either advertised or offered… But I’m usually happy with my speed…”

I usually only see delivery problems with BBC iPlayer, so I assume that is down to them and not PlusNet.

never had the speed thy say i am with virgin

Chris says:
5 May 2017

Virgin Media is a terrible company in my experience. I am supposed to get 100 Mb/s download and have just timed it at 2.97 Mb/s. Upload is actually better at 5.31 Mb/s. Used http://www.speedtest.net/

Virgin didn’t implement changes to my contract about 18 months ago and overcharged me for about a year. They refused to refund the overcharge. About a week ago I complained about my cable speeds. They put me on a new contract at 100 Mb/s, gave me £77 compensation (50% of internet cost) but refused to confirm the new contract in writing or by email. The 100 Mb/s speed contract is much worse than the one I had before which gave 17 Mb/s.

This company is owned by Liberty Global, an American group that is one of the American companies using cheap printed money to buy foreign companies, like Cadburys, bought by Kraft. These companies operate on borrowed cash that they will never repay. It’s an arrangements between US companies and banks that suits them both. They get control of foreign companies at no cost since this debt costs the banks nothing. It’s money out of thin air.

Would be better if the basic charge bore some relationship (was proportional) to the speed received ?

That would be fair, JR, if you also think that when you have your car serviced, the cost of the service should depend on how fast the car can go. There’s a relationship, but it’s not straightforward. Just the same, the speed you get isn’t a choice by the ISP, but the cost to them is similar however fast your connection.

I found just this last week that BT do not guarantee wi-fi and this is after saying that the smart router gives the best wi-fi on their current advert

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Norman Naylor says:
5 May 2017

We can find out what our broadband speeds are using a free speed checker, and we are also able to access the speeds other people receive in our area. Surely ISP’s can give us more reliable information for specific areas. The ISP I use was and is able to tell me what speed to expect, and his prediction is accurate. Am I missing something?

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I’m with Virgin and my speeds are rubbish. I live in a tiny one bed flat but as soon as I move from the living room I have no signal for mobile or internet. And I’m paying a fortune for this each month. Unfortunately, having done a bit of research, its my understanding that in my area – London SE1 – Virgin are one of the better providers. If that’s the case, I’d hate to see what the others are offering.

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I think the requirement should be that 50% of subscribers should be able to receive the advertised speed. That of course will mean lowering the advertised speeds.

In fairness to my own supplier, although I’m nominally on an ‘Up to 8Mb/s’ service they do make clear (in my individual notice) that because of my distance from the exchange I may only get 2Mb/s. And I actually get ore than that.

Tim, that’s fine but you’ll still get the other 50% complaining! It is not a simple thing as speeds will vary around the average declared speed depending on a number of factors. We could have 90% of course, with even slower claimed speed then. In my view it is the speed I am likely to get at my house that matters to me, not what 10, 20 or 50% of other people get. So a personal estimate – is what I would find useful, as opposed to finding reasons to knock the ASA.

“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. ”

Which? is right to criticise the ASA. This discussion is about false advertising, not technical issues. The claims made by service providers should take into account these issues and market their services honestly.

Virgin tell me I get 150Mb transmission, I’d be lucky to see a third of that, even though they have tested my line and confirm I get more speed than I know I get. The conclusion is that all of the ISP’s are liars, all of them are economical with the tests, and none of them give proper value for money or tell the truth, especially BT and Virgin, whilst the rest are worse (30 years of IT experience talking here).

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John Price says:
5 May 2017

We should Pay for the speeds we actually get, That way BT would owe us money!! We should have guessed when David Cameron PROMISED that 90% of the UK would have Superfast Fibre Optic Broadband by the end of 2013.. Does anyone know when the end of 2013 is due please? Or was it yet another of Cameron’s Broken Promises?

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John, according to ThinkBroadband’s own results from people speedtesting on their site, we already have 96%+ FTTC at a fast speed. It’s the other 4% who are complaining – but that’s still a lot of people.

Andrew Matthews says:
5 May 2017

When I took out a digital 76mb (FTTC) line with PlusNet , they made it clear before I contracted that the connection speed would be 66mb and, to be fair, this is nearly exactly what I receive. If PlusNet can do this for me, then I would assume that this should be possible for all connections. Then, at least, people will know what they can expect to receive, even if it’s not the advertised speed.

PlusNet have been doing this check for prospective customers for over a decade, Andrew. I don’t know which other ISPs do it, too, but I thought that they’d all promised Ofcom recently that they would.

We just moved to Glasgow from Montrose 7 weeks ago and have found the broadband speed to be the slowest we have ever experienced, we believe Virgin Media are digging a few streets down the road from us and we have been told they should be up to us by the end of the year, thank goodness then we will be able to get rid of our BT account for ever.

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I’m with Virginmedia and I’m paying for 200Mb but regularly get 220Mb on my wired PC. Also on my iPhone 6S and my wife’s new iPad. So no complaints here. I guess we are the lucky ones?

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Perhaps the costs of the roll out of fast broadband should be paid for by the large businesses that profit from delivering video rather than expecting the government to meet the costs, at a time when the NHS and education need more money.

That is also my opinion Wavechange. Those delivering video are largely responsible for the need for faster broadband and should contribute to improving the system.

I presume that this option must have been considered, Alfa. If I was in charge of BT I would be pushing very hard.

The BBC suggested as much – but were received with stony silence. Put up the TV licence fee? !!!!!

Amazon Prime are another high user. Amazon are tax avoiders, and to top it all expect the government to provide the means to increase their coffers. Something wrong there somewhere.

Those delivering speed-hungry subscription material will pass the costs on to the subscriber; so those receiving this content will contribute to the cost of the infrastructure. Seems fair to me.