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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.


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?

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)

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

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.

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Nessie, what can you NOT do at the speed you receive?

Because nobody care about of the nationwide investment into the real optic fibre cabling over all the UK…
They have got bilions of Taxpayer’s moneys but sadly said this is just for wasting it into other things….

It needs to stop the Internet companies to lie about an optic fibre Internet as this is just a myth in the UK…
It’s just about a coaxial cable nothing more!

Paul Stone says:
6 May 2017

I have a Virgin fibre connection with an advertised 200mbs speed. I regularly get 210 to 220mbs. I live in southern Hampshire.

We are with Virgin and we are promissed 200 MB/s. I have just checked again and we have 50Mb/s download and 13Mb/s upload speed, so a quarter of promised / advertised.

What other commodity or service would 10% conformity with advertised description be acceptable?
10% functionality for a car would quickly end up in court. Advertising standards should be consistent as they are there to protect the consumer, not kow-tow to vested interests. We pay their wages and they work on our behalf.

andmlkel, “10% conformity with advertised description” isn’t the issue – “up to” is. It’s a far more honest situation than car fuel use is; and 10 years ago, before Which? campaigned for some transparency, outrageous claims were made. When an ISP claims that “up to 76Mb” speed, the condition to be met is ALWAYS in the advert: “*speed achieved by 10% of our users”. Buyers who ignore this qualification are being disingenuous. Nor is it 10% functionality. It’s speed, not function that’s being claimed for 10%, and when an ISP makes unfair claims, the ASA does call them, and if they persist, fines them. The car analogy is “60mpg”, not “on the road for 310 days a year” or “nine out of ten times, your brakes will work”! So, continuing the analogy, the claim is similar to “10% of our users get 60mpg”. Would it were so!

Had action been taken when the first ISP used ‘up to’ in their marketing it might have been easier to put an end to this dishonesty.

Some have pointed out that the official test figures are the only ones that the car manufacturers can publish but there are ways they could be more honest. ‘Most users will achieve a substantially lower fuel economy’ or ‘You have not a cat in heaven’s chance of matching these figures’.

If the speed is properly described in accordance with stated conditions, there is no dishonesty, just because you might object to the conditions The question is how you can describe broad band speed in any meaningful way when it will vary with conditions others have described. Exactly how would you publish a speed that is useful to individual customers? I have suggested getting a specific estimate for your premises from a potential provider. They should still give a general indication in adverts of speeds on offer, but they must always be qualified in some way. Even if you give a speed of up to (because conditions will cause variations) X Mbps that 80% will achieve, that leaves 20% who won’t, and they will still complain.

As you bring car mpg into a broadband conversation, and cats, from memory the average mpg in real life across all vehicles is 88% of the test figures under the outdated NEDC. Some cars do exceed the official figure. So overstating the discrepancy is misleading 🙂 What they could do is refer you to an owner average mpg site – which is what people should look at in addition anyway – such as published by Honest John. Official mpgs are published, as they state, “for comparative purposes only” – the EC’s objective. Hopefully WLTP tests will give more realistic results.

Many are fed-up with the claims made by service providers, so I will continue to support efforts to put an end to the dishonesty.

In answer to your question, I suggest that the service companies simply label their products as
– broadband (i.e. all copper)
and invite potential customers to obtain a speed estimate for their home or prospective home.

As far as fuel economy of cars goes, I’m interested in proper comparative figures at the time of purchase, so that I can make an informed choice when buying. That means testing cars under identical test conditions and not engaging in dishonest practices to produce better figures. As far as I know, Which? still buys products on the open market and submits them for independent testing. I wish the motor industry would catch up.

I have suggested a “proper estimate” from the start as the only sensible way to judge broadband. i did that and achieve what I was told. However, if ISP’s provide different “products” at different speeds they need a way of advertising that, and a standard system is the way.

“Proper” comparative figures is a bit of a non-sequitur. You can only produce comparative figures under standardised test conditions, which is what the EC did with NEDC and now WLTP. These may not represent how a particular individual uses their car. Using “actual” mpgs given on a number of websites is another check but, like any “average”, some will do worse, and some better.

Which?s tests are under standardised conditions that differ from those laid down by the EC. They would cause less confusion if they made this clearer. The WLTP is an improvement; I hope Which? also adopts this then all the comparative figures can be compared on the same basis.

It seems that broadband speed checkers vary – an earlier post claimed that Which?’s is over-optimistic. There should be a standardised test (if not the case already) so once again figures can be properly compared.

I have had my Broadband off BT for quite some time now, about 6 years.
All was well at first but during this past year their service has dropped off dramatically.
AS soon as the children get out of school I may as well forget trying to use the computer
as at all, as the speeds drop so much I can wait up to five minutes just to sign into my
email provider.
I feel that all this started soon after us signing up to a “new 2 year deal”…!!! So now they
have us over a barrel, that is:- put up with ity or pay up to leave…!!!
The only difference here is that with every complaint I make they continuously offer to
“Upgrade” to fibre optic broadband, obviously at a much higher cost…!!!
I have asked but not had a reply:- surely if BT are not suplying what they promised then
this is breach of contract, also, if they are changing me over to fibre optic then they should
compensate me for breaking our existing contract.
By the way, during this past year, I rarely recieve more than 1mbps and often much less.

There are two issues here, Igm. First, it’s not to do with your contract with the ISP. They are simply not able to give any one customer such personal attention. Unless you are causing a nuisance by streaming 10 videos in parallel, 24/7 – in which case, you’d probably get an automated throttling of your speeds!

But secondly, your service might well be degrading because more and more people are joining your connection to the exchange, and overloading the service at times. What you describe is probably this, in which case, changing ISP might or might not fix the problem – it depends on where the bottleneck is.

If it’s at the ISP end, a different ISP could be a fix for a while. If it’s among your neighbours, all trying to share the same cabinet to exchange link, the ISP is irrelevant to this problem. We had this once, and our supplier, PlusNet, badgered BT Wholesale until they moved us to another line at the exchange and all was immediately better.

As things are at the moment, though, unless you have a promise of a minimum connection speed (rare, and at a premium price) then no ISP is forced by contract to guarantee you a particular speed or bandwidth. And if local ‘contention’ is the issue (too many neighbours sharing a line and each wanting more and more usage), even changing to a different ISP won’t help. BT are right to offer you a fibre upgrade, because it’s probably a fix. But there’s a price, of course…

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Martin Frearson & Sue Frearson says:
6 May 2017

We think that the providers should only be allowed to use the ‘up to’ claim in their advertising if they can show that the majority i.e. >50% of their customers get that speed of service.

Good idea. But I’d like to see both – the top 10% speed AND the average speed. The people will be better able to judge what they might get.

We’ve been with PlusNet now for nearly 20 years, and they have always promised to give potential customers a good estimate of their own likely speed just by giving them a (free) phone call. This was true even when the typical ISP was very coy about what to expect until the contract was signed.

Tony says:
6 May 2017

I am with TalkTalk, and they quote 17Mbs but I rarely get more than 11Mbs.
I have friends who only get 6Mbs.
Talking with their Customer service is a laugh, they have not got a clue!

Tony, it’s UP TO 17Mb, not “everyone will definitely get 17 Mb”. So the range you say is about right. It mostly depends how far along the copper cable each house is. The system was set up for old-fashioned voice calls, where a 2 mile cable was fine, and without charging everyone a fortune to pay for full fat fibre-to-the-home, BT Wholesale can only make improvements as funds allow. TalkTalk customer service can’t do anything about this – like all the other suppliers using the network, they are stuck with what’s available to them.

I get less than 1 mg. and BT say that they can*t do anything about it. As long as I am paying my£50 pounds plus every month they will continue to do nothing but they have me over a barrel as I live in the country and they have the only line to my home

John says:
6 May 2017

In some rural areas, wireless broadband – usually from a third-party provider – can be an effective answer by removing the dependency on BT’s inadequate distribution infrastructure and poorly maintained and aged copper lines. And if you have line-sharing (e.g. DACS) you cannot have broadband at all. We have all these issues in our Dorset village. Before we finally got so-called ‘Superfast’ fibre (oh, really?) we only got around 1mbps, some as low as 0.25mbps. Now I get around 6mbps, but it’s nowhere near the advertised ‘up to 30mbps’, and it’s highly dependant on where on the line from the distribution box (over 2 miles away) you are. I’m seriously considering switching to wireless this year.

There IS a solution, Tony. If you pay them the thousands of pounds to run you a fibre connection to the house, they’ll do it for you. Most people, of course, want everyone else with a broadband connection to pay for it; in other words, the personal cable to your house should be free to you. Do you really pay £50 for just the broadband, or is there, say, a voice phone involved, too? That works fine?

Andmikal is spot on. Why are providers allowed to do this?
Any other service which lies to this extent would wind up in court. Why are communication companies allowed to do this with mobile phone coverage, internet etc. OFCOM is a toothless tiger or has been told not to rock the boat. Perhaps it would be interesting to see if any of these companies contribute to political parties or to what extent do they lobby!

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Why not simply require a simple change in reporting? For example, they could report the arithmetic mean speed, and standard deviation, of the service that real customers receive. They could do that by random surveys or by collating the results of speed tests carried out by customers.

From my point of view, the problem is not the average speed that I receive, but the reliability of the service. Having a good speed is of no use if, for example, my email is interrupted on a daily basis because the mail client cannot contact the BT server. Last night I met a member of one of my evening classes to whom I had sent an email on Tuesday about a class which was scheduled for Wednesday. He received it yesterday (Friday), which was obviously too late.

It should be easy enough, too, to produce software which adjusts one’s payments according the down-time of the system. The more it is down, and the greater the gap between advertised and actual speeds, the less the customer pays. Now that would be a real way of making a commercial solution work.

Big data in the service of the community.

Eric, ISPs are NOT lying. They are allowed to advertise the speed that the fastest 10% of customers get, as long as they say that this is what they are claiming. If that’s not clear, do report them to Ofcom and the ASA. If you think that this is all lying and cheating, do please reply here with your evidence – or prepare to be accused of slander. Which? thinks that the current system (which they helped to set up, as better than what went before) is still not clear enough. I agree – it needs improving. But cheating? Evidence please! Or I might think that YOU have a political agenda which you are hiding.

A major issue that needs more publicity is the loss of speed between router and computer if using wireless connection rather than wires With my 7 year old laptop I was getting less than 10 Mb/s with wireless but when I installed powerline adapters so signal could go via house electrical wiring, bingo, I get 70 Mb/s or more, which is what we pay for. Even resting the laptop on top of router only gave 20 Mb/s with wireless, so either the wireless signal from router is poor or wireless reception by computer is poor. Conclusion: there is more to this issue than simply broadband speed at the router – although obviously this is a major issue for many

John says:
6 May 2017

WiFi speeds can be significantly lowered by the structure of your building – brick/stone internal walls will mute the signal, and distance from the router will compound the problem.

Frank says:
6 May 2017

I have been with Freeserve, taken over by Wanadoo, taken over by Orange, taken over by EE for about 20 years.

I have always received less than 3 bps download speed from my up to 20bps contract. I let myself be trapped by not wanting to lose my FREESERVE.co.uk email address.

EE terminates Freeserve, Wanadoo and Orange email addresses on May 31st; I have already migrated to Outlook.com and will change my ISP soon.

It’s probably worth migrating just to check, Frank. But be prepared for the same speed from ANY provider who uses the same connections.

lets pay our government member responsible for telecoms the average broadband rate as per the true rates over the country. It is amazing just what focuses the mind when it hits the pocket.

Jimbo says:
6 May 2017

We live in a country in which the government is dedicated to doing what is best for business and not what is best for the customer. Hence as customers we are regularly mislead and taken for granted. I would like to see us change to a customers-first country, but we are a long way from that and currently going in the wrong direction.

It is about time that the whole country receives a fast broadband speed. It is so frustrating to have to sit and wait, and wait, and wait ………..for a download to complete.

No problem, Barrie. All we need is £10-15 billion and 20,000 new line engineers, and the whole thing can be fixed in six months. How much of that money are you willing to find? It’s about £600 a household. And we need suggestions about who will train the engineers, and what work they’ll drop to do so. And what will we do for those engineers once the work’s done? And what services we’ll stop to fund it all?

Might be better to use a wireless solution, if you live where cables are unavailable.

That is absolutely the right analysis, David. Everyone’s wish cannot be granted overnight. Trying to push through cables the volumes that are deliverable by satellite is not easy taking into account popular log-in times and the network characteristics. It is also relevant that much new content and many new media experiences requiring higher capacity have been developed since the early fibre installations [mainly to new-build areas] and it unrealistic to expect a largely underground and overhead physical infrastructure serving people’s premises to handle such traffic volumes without a costly and time-consuming upgrade.

I waited 7 months and 15 visits from Openreach before I managed to get connected to a package for telephone line, broadband and TV. When finally connected I could only receive 5mps which Talktalk said was insufficient for TV. Ended up having to take a package of fibre broadband at extra cost.

Whilst speed is an issue, my biggest current problem is drops in broadband, this has been an issue since circa November 2016, I installed software on my desktop which pings every 5 seconds,3 different websites, if it fails to get a response from the 3 sites, it logs a fault. Since I have used this software since 9th Dec 2016 until today, I have logged circa 400 – 425 faults. My network provider has stated that they cannot improve it.
I suspect that the most likely cause of the fault is the very old copper cabling to my location.

Whilst speed is an issue, my biggest issue is drops in broadband, this has been an issue since circa November 2016, I installed software on my desktop which pings every 5 seconds,3 different websites, if it fails to get a response from the 3 sites, it logs a fault. Since I have used this software since 9th Dec 2016 until today, I have logged circa 400 – 425 faults. My network provider has stated that they cannot improve it.
I suspect that the most likely cause of the fault is the very old copper cabling to my location.

Overall, Davidinnotts, I tend to agree with most of your first post, but would point out that with 95% having a reasonable connection if they want to pay for it, that still leaves 3.2 million without. It can hardly be said that BT and Outreach have been forging ahead to provide the best possible provision for everyone in the UK, and I have particular sympathy for small, rural businesses.
Also, having lived and/or worked in a number of countries across four continents, plus family and friends in many others, I cannot agree that Britain provides “world class services” in broadband, or many other “services” as so many politicians claim.
We used to, but was in the days when the gov had different priorities for their use of taxpayers money; did their best to deal with tax avoiders and evaders; and had more concern for the population than for bankers and their party donors.
I can only conclude that our current mob are so out of touch with today’s reality, and its ever increasing changes and demands, that they could do with some eductaion from a few 15 year olds. I am well over 70, and counting … but I increasingly wonder if it is really worth looking to a future from the current point of few?

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Brian Hawes says:
6 May 2017

I live in Stone, Staffordshire and have BT Infinity 2 which advertises 76MB but I only get 30MB!

GK says:
7 May 2017

Download speed is only one factor of quality of service.
Providers still need to go some way to provide clear latency and traffic management policy for comparison. Some of the highest profile providers, with the fastest advertised download speeds actually have punitive traffic shaping policies hidden in the small print, or vaguely stated.

Don’t stop at just the speed advertised. What about products advertised as fibre which actually mean fibre somewhere back in the network (almost all broadband is delivered over a fibre backbone) but your connection is still copper.

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