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Loading… loading… new advertising rules for broadband finally arrive

Bad broadband

Tomorrow, new rules from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) come into force addressing unrealistic speed claims that have plagued the advertising landscape for years. Will they make a difference?

Last week we released new research showing British households are paying for broadband services that are, on average, 51% slower than advertised. This unfortunately wasn’t a particularly shocking finding for us. In fact we’ve been talking about this since 2014 when we launched our Broadband Speed Guaranteed campaign – calling for a fairer way to advertise speeds to customers.

ASA agrees

The ASA listened to us and went out to consult on the guidelines that were in place. Did you know that, under the rules that go out the window today, providers were able to advertise an “up to” speed, so long as one in 10 of their customers were able to achieve it?

We were thrilled when the ASA ruling followed Which?’s recommendation – that speed claims used in advertisements should be available to at least 50% of customers at peak times.

But Which? – why not 100%!? I hear you cry. It’s a good point, but internet connections can’t be that predictable; anything from the weather, to the amount of people tuning into Netflix at the same time can affect the speed you’re getting. That’s why the inclusion of peak time (which Ofcom measures as between 8-10pm) is very important. It’s no use being able to hit your advertised speed at 5am.

When the ASA announced the changes back in November they gave providers a 6 month window to implement them which has led us to today. After campaigning on this for over four years it feels like it has been a long time coming. We will be watching with interest to see what changes this makes to the broadband landscape.

An important step

While this ruling is a welcome one for fairness and transparency, it won’t of course change the service people are getting when signed up. That’s why our Fix Bad Broadband campaign will continue to push to improve services and access for all. But we are proud to have campaigned with the 125,000 people who supported the campaign to make this change happen.

Providers must now ensure they are compliant with the new rules, and consumers should be able to sign up to broadband packages with more trust in what they’ll be able to get. Personally, I’ll be interested to see whether the advertising landscape shifts as a result. Will we, for example, start seeing advertisements using speeds less, favouring other measures instead? Time will tell.

We want to hear from you. Do you think today’s changes lead to consumers being able to trust their providers to deliver connections as advertised? And were you aware of how little chance you had of achieving the advertised speed when you signed up?


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I don’t disagree with you about all the problems that can affect broadband speed but in my view these need to be taken into account when companies market their services.

The reputation of the ISPs could be greatly helped if they were more honest and so long as most companies persist in using ‘up to’ claims in their marketing they deserve to be treated with contempt. Get rid of them and invite customers to obtain a realistic estimated speed range before taking out a contract with an ISP. Since many experience slower speeds at peak usage then the speed estimate should be conservative. No-one is going to complain if they sometimes achieve a higher speed than is claimed.

Why should Which? have to keep pushing the ASA to sort this out once and for all.

Four years ago (it seems like just yesterday) I was suggesting getting your personal speed estimate from a prospective ISP as the best solution. “Up to” is quite a simple, but fairly useless concept – the best the ISP is capable of. But if explained properly, not misleading unless you want it to be. A speed that 50% will get is a little better, but not that helpful if you are in the wrong 50%. And any speed declared will depend upon traffic at the time, your link to the incoming feed, your own usage and equipment……So all by its nature a bit imprecise.

We are chasing a bit of an elusive thing here. Can we not require prospective ISPs to give a speed range on demand that you, as an individual, are likely to receive at the inlet to your property?

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Exactly duncan. But the Which? research suggests they have accurate results. How was that achieved?

Which? give research showing “broadband services that are, on average, 51% slower than advertised.” Presumably they mean judged against the “up to” speed?

It would be helpful to know just how this research was conducted. For example, were users recording speed on an ethernet cable or on wifi (that can substantially slow speed depending on where the equipment is then located)? Were they measuring speed at a number of different times of day? Did they have up to date equipment? Just that to reach an accurate conclusion you need to have a carefully-constructed test method.

I wonder just what speeds will now be publicised as peak time will be the slowest. Is that helpful? That seems to assume the most important users are those who download entertainment rather than use computers for more serious activities – like convos. Is that a fair criterion?

A number of us have said elsewhere that as the entertainment companies profit heavily from their internet services, that presumably can substantially affect the speed of everyone, they should also contribute quite heavily to upgrading the network to restore and improve speed.

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Hi Colum – After using the Which? speed checker we are invited to state which service we are using and the ‘up to’ speed. Surely the speed should be compared with the estimated speed provided by the ISP.

I do wish Which? would push for a ban on ‘up to’ speeds, so that the marketing of broadband was on the basis of an estimated speed range. So long as unattainable speeds are quoted, many users will feel cheated.

Thanks Colum. As the ISP is responsible, as I understand it, only up to the entry connection at the premises this is what should be used to decide the speed they are providing when they are being looked at critically. I agree that they can help people with advice to improve their own (the customer’s) equipment and layout but that is a quite separate issue from deciding whether they are meeting their obligations.

I assume when you say “we released new research showing British households are paying for broadband services that are, on average, 51% slower than advertised. ” you mean less than the “up to” speed. That is not surprising, is it. Presumably the new “rule” that 50% will get the advertised speed means 50% will not, so has much changed?

An “up to” speed, is fairly worthless except to show the maximum the ISP’s service is capable of. We need a system where an individual can find what they are likely to get at their premises.

We live in Stroud Gloucester UK. It’s hilly and our broadband speed is far below acceptable. We are told cable is not even considered possible. If you got 50% at any time we would be rejoicing.

Paul says:
24 May 2018

To extend your analogy, if you buy a car that is advertised as capable of “up to” 150 mph and it will barely reach 30, I would argue that you should have a perfect right to reject the goods as not fit for purpose, or to accept a revised price that is much lower, if you find that satisfactory. Otherwise, sue them!

I have a fibre service to my home (Virgin) in a suburban environment. When they first trialed their 200 MB service, I measured the speed at up to 240 MB/s. Now, it never reaches 50. The most likely reason that I can think of is contention ratio. If I surmise correctly, bluntly, through greed (please look up their charges), they put too many households on a circuit to achieve the advertised performance. What would happen to electricity companies who connected so many consumers to a generating facility that they all suffered frequent brown-outs due to inability to maintain the promised voltage? If broadband is now considered to be an essential utility, the providers should be held to similar quality requirements and fined.

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Colum – consumers are given a speed estimate on contracting for BB. This is what they pay for! Not an ‘up to ” advertised speed. What I am missing here – why do you and Which? keep ignoring this?

That was the point I made earlier on this page, Stephen, and others have said the same.

@j964144156 Hi Colum – Please can you explain why Which? is comparing actual speed with the ‘up to’ speed rather than the estimate. Thanks for your recent feedback.

I doubt Which? will reply Wavechange. I raised it with them as soon as the report came out and have had no response. Which? seem happy enough to distort facts when it suits them. I am very disappointed in all this. The credibility of Which? is undermined by this kind of sloppy research.

Let’s hope we get a response, Stephen.

In his introduction, Colum said: “Did you know that, under the rules that go out the window today, providers were able to advertise an “up to” speed, so long as one in 10 of their customers were able to achieve it?” The only reason that ‘one in 10’ was allowed was as a result of campaigning by Which? and others. In my view the industry should never have been allowed to use ‘up to’ speeds in their marketing. While I am not keen on the way that Which? conducts its campaigns, this may be the only way of making progress in tackling dishonest marketing within the industry.

The broadband industry could gain more credibility if the all dropped their ‘up to’ headlines and provided realistic speed ranges for their customers.

It seems to me that advertising any speed that a % of consumers will get is not very helpful. Like 50% at peak time. So half of us will get less than that, and half more. Which half would complain?

We should be looking at how to get an individual speed prediction before we commit to a contract. What others might get is not really relevant.

Yes, and we are agreed that realistic speed predictions are the sensible solution. Unfortunately, what many people focus on is the ‘up to’ headline speed. A minority of people might want to know what the theoretical maximum speed that their connection could support but that could be put in the small print. Would you agree?

We are agreed! :-). Perhaps Which? will also agree and campaign to require speed predictions rather than less helpful averages.

.I believe I understand what “up to” means – the maximum possible speed that the particular ISP’s service can provide. Not the speed I will get.. Knowing the problems with distance from the exchange, traffic, time of day, I don’t think I’ve ever been under the illusion I might get that speed. My ISP did tell me what to expect, and that is more or less what I seem to get.

Some don’t really read information, or choose to misinterpret it.

What bothers me about the Whjch? approach is they compare so-called achieved speeds (of dubious accuracy I’d suggest) with an “up to” advertised speed, which is comparing apples and pears. I do wish they would avoid this kind of misleading argument and properly explain the facts. It might not make such good headlines, but I can do without those.

We are only agreed on one point. It does not matter what you or I can understand, Malcolm. If you want to retain the ‘up to’ speed, why not put it in the small print?

Duplicate post removed.

It is very difficult for ISP’s to support users if ISP’s have no control over what bits of kit users attached to the incoming connection, and users lack of competence in managing said kit. ISP’s are responsible for getting the contracted connection speed to the user premises; if this responsibility is to be extended then ISP’s will have to be able to specify only their equipment is attached to the connection and such equipment is locked down from user amendment. Think about electricity and gas supply – these are supplied to the premises but what happens after that if down to the consumer.

But don’t we get this at the moment – a speed prediction based on the line in question?

Internet service providers need to make it clear that their speed predictions are based on what they deliver to the premises, not what the customer can expect. That must not be hidden in the small print. Advice on how to deal with problems caused by internal wiring, WiFi interference and distance from the router, and simultaneous use of multiple devices can be explained and some ISPs do have very useful help sections on their website. I fully support ISPs charging for engineers’ visits to investigate problems that are not their fault. I assume that ISPs do advise customers to carry out their own checks and warn them of the cost of sending an engineer if no problem is found. If they did not do this then I expect we would see many complaints on websites.

I’m very lucky being on FTTP and my download speed is always around 75Mbps, which is what is advertised.

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Thanks for coming back, Colum. I can now see the strategy and would love for ‘up to’ speeds to be banned because I agree that these are what many people focus on. On the other hand, it’s easy for us to get an estimated speed these days and if that was used, many more people would be getting what they pay for. It would be interesting to know how estimated speeds compare with what the customer receives, obviously taking into account problems with internal wiring, WiFi connections and computer equipment.

I will carry on pushing for a ban on use of ‘up to’ in marketing of broadband and hoping that the entertainment industry will help foot the bill for the roll-out of decent broadband services.

Column, I appreciate what you say about advertising. However, whatever general figures are presented are fairly unhelpful. What 50% will receive or exceed means another 50% will not. Which 50% will the recipient be in? And how far short of the speed advertised will they be?

Surely Which? could recognise that promoting an individual speed estimate is far more useful, and helpful, to the customer? By all means have slightly better advertising, but adding the means to get far better information would be much more benefial?

Yes – I thought this might be the case. But the simple fact is that the statement that people are not getting the service they are paying for is not correct. Which? is being disingenuous in using the survey results in this way. This concerns me greatly. If Which? cannot be honest with the facts why should they expect others to be honest. No need to reply too this – I am in the process of taking this matter up with the Which? hierarchy. Thanks for the response.

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Get rid of the ‘up to’ speed and that will go a long way towards making customers happier with their service.

Alfa and I were banging on about making the entertainment companies pay for roll out of fast broadband in other Convos but I don’t know if there are any plans for this to happen, so BT just gets the blame for lack of investment and government money to improve broadband services is effectively being used to support these companies. I wonder if there is actually any legal mechanism for making the entertainment companies pay up. There is no doubt that heavy broadband users are slowing down services for everyone including those who are light users.

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Duncan – yes house prices are cheaper in rural areas, but petrol and food is more expensive. Options to move may be non-existent (can’t afford higher prices elsewhere) – it’s not always a “lifestyle choice”. Lack of broadband also limits job options – no working from home (and therefore higher commute costs), limited options to start up own businesses etc. I think most people living in isolated areas would accept that they won’t get the same rate as those in cities and towns, but it should be useable and reliable – that doesn’t seem too much to ask for. Many people in rural areas are stuck on an “up to 17Mbs” package, while in reality they get 0.5Mbs on a good day, and many days with no access at all, but they are still charged the same rate as those getting a better service.

Why not charge per Mbs where speeds of above 10 aren’t possible? It would save endless calls to get a refund for days when the service isn’t available (at a cost) and might give a financial incentive to sorting the problem out.

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So far as I am aware, the government is paying Openreach for much of the faster fibre roll-out and in many areas it is ahead of schedule. I think it is inevitable that there will be some pockets of total isolation that only other technologies can bridge.

My gripe about VM and other media suppliers [including BT] is that they are flooding the network with content in connected areas but have not made an equivalent contribution towards the capacity.

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Paul says:
24 May 2018

Please see my earlier post. It is totally irrelevant who is paying for infrastructure or how much. If you are providing a service, it should be provided in such a way that the customer has a reliable metric, so that they can hold the provider’s feet to the fire if they consistently fail to meet the terms of the contract. At the very least this should entail a refund, and ideally for widespread and systematic breaches, significant fines from a regulator.

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Unfortunately, I lost ALL trust with big business these days. Same as politicians; make promises they know they cannot or will not keep.

Gareth Jones says:
23 May 2018

Yeah but who came up with the original requirements in the first place? Everyone should be capable of enough common sense to know that 10% was insufficient. That rule should never have existed in the first place, much less been the requirement for literally YEARS.

[Sorry, your comment has been edited to align with our community guidelines https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Thanks, Alex.]

Mike says:
23 May 2018

I think BB providers will need to invest in fiber optics as the current system is only barely managing. The speeds of BB are still reliant on distances from the exchange and dependent on amount of users in the connected area.

Mike – for the FTTC products (Fibre to the Cabinet) it is distance to the fibre connected street cabinet that matters. The final connection is still over copper, but the FTTC street cabinet cuts out the distance to the exchange. FTTC is what providers such as BT,Sky,Vodafone, Talk Talk largely use.

ones again Which have mad I difference the 10% was a joke, advertiser and business have governments by the lobbies and complaining works. ( power to the consumer)

Last year we endured months of disruption in Crowthorne as Virgin dug up pavements / roads to install fibre. To date no attempt has been made to connect our street to that network, so what was the point?
As to average speeds when is this measured – middle of the night or during peak times I wonder?

Don says:
23 May 2018

Am currently taking a complaint to the Ombudsman as BT refuse to compensate for lack of broadband when ‘phone line down for over a month. Still much to change.

Neville Singh says:
23 May 2018

we have suffered lies for far too long let’s see if this will happen. We pay for a broadband speed but never gets it daylight robbery

Michael Thomas says:
23 May 2018

When Virgin advertised the increased speed I didn’t really expect it to happen and I wasn’t too bothered as 70 Mbps is just about fast enough for me and it’s pretty reliable. Virgin sent an email recently saying the speed had gone up to 100 Mbps so I checked it straightaway amazingly it read as about 110 Mbps with an upload of around 6 Mbps.
If this is the result of lobbying by many of us and holding suppliers to their promises then I am well pleased. Many thanks.

Chris says:
23 May 2018

What will change and who will enforce as Gov agencies just go with the flow

Whilst it is good news I don’t think it goes far enough the vote is still out every one should get at least 500mbps as standard .

the only reason i have put the speed at that level is because at that level you likly to get 150mbps , getting less than 125mbps is not enough for most homes who have 2+ kids and you have sky tv + 2 x adults + 4 / 5 mobile phones the list is endless for broadband usages these days.

Why does your broadband speed checker not work?
My pc just sits and looks at me, whereas if I use http://www.speedtest.net it works every single time!

It must be your computer or browser, Harry. I have used it on about ten computers since it was first available.

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OK. If Harry wants to keep his settings an easy option would be to switch to another browser. I used to have a variety of browsers for different purposes but two do the job now.

This is a great step forward. But only a step. It’s great for the top 50%. Nothing changes for the lower 50%. I get 4mbs, yes 4! and that is the max. it’s often less.
I think legislation that dictates that you are charged in line with the speed that is achieved at the terminal might focus the supplier’s mind and would certainly be fairer.

I always claimed that if a page could load as fast as I can turn the page of the local broadsheet newspaper, then it was fast enough for me. I was about to comment that speed was not an issue for me, until I gave it some real thought. Hence the opening sentence. My real issue with internet usage, is the way advertisers and even government departments, assume that we all have a means of accessing the internet, whether fast or slow. How often have you seen, either in an advert or on a government document, the words, “For more information, visit our website.”? For me that means, that people without access to that information, are at a disadvantage, over those of us who do. I want WHICH? to lobby the government, for everyone to have FREE access to the internet, just the way we can have free access to radio broadcasts. “For more information, visit our website”? At whose expense? I want it FREE.

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