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Telling the truth about broadband speeds

Broadband speeds PC AdvisorBroadband speed satisfaction stands at a four-year low, as ISPs fail to live up to their superfast claims.

More than a third of broadband users are unhappy with their download speeds, according to price comparison website Broadbandchoices.co.uk, despite ever higher headline speeds.

The study showed that although average broadband speeds have been increasing over recent years - now standing at 6.2Mb according to Ofcom - more people are unhappy with the speeds they receive.

So in a bid to improve consumer satisfaction, the telecoms regulator is proposing dramatic changes to the way that broadband speeds are advertised.

Changing advertising standards

A large number of factors affect the broadband speeds that you get - and if you're on an ADSL package, the biggest issue will be your distance from the telephone exchange.

While Ofcom can’t do anything to boost your broadband speed in the sticks, it can help consumers understand what kind of speeds they should be getting.

It is proposing a change in the way that broadband speeds are advertised, moving to a “typical speed” that at least 50 percent of customers can receive, instead of the near-impossible “up to” speeds currently flouted by ISPs.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, explained: “ISPs need to do more to ensure they are giving customers clear and accurate information about the services they provide and the factors that may affect the actual speeds customers will receive.

“It is important that the rules around broadband advertising change so that consumers are able to make more informed decisions based on the adverts they see,” he added.

The argument against change

But BT, the UK’s biggest internet provider with more than five million customers, argues against changing the rules on speed advertising - even claiming that a typical speed would actually increase confusion.

John Petter, consumer managing director at BT Retail, said: “Moving to typical speed ranges will potentially be highly misleading as the average performance will vary depending on where people live.”

He added that enforcing typical speed ranges would “encourage ISPs to cherry pick customers who will increase their average, leaving customers in rural and suburban areas under-served” - something that would encourage digital exclusion rather than tackle it.

“Broadband speeds vary from line to line, and so it is meaningless to use one speed for advertising,” continued Petter. “That is why we use the term ‘up to’. The most important thing is that customers are told what speed their line is capable of supporting at the point of sale - this ensures that customers receive what they are promised.”

Support for change

But not all broadband providers oppose Ofcom’s plans. Sky said that “ISPs should only advertise a headline ‘up to’ speed when it is available to at least 10 percent of consumers”, while Virgin Media and O2 both support a change on broadband speed advertising.

Jon James, executive director of broadband at Virgin Media, said: “Consumers continue to be treated like mugs and misled by ISPs that simply cannot deliver on their advertised speed claims.

“We support Ofcom’s call for all ISPs to publish the typical real world speeds they’re delivering to customers, so people know exactly what to expect and what they’re paying for.”

And taking a hit at BT Infinity - the fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) service from BT - he added: “In a nascent market for next generation broadband, the sub-standard fibre optic services being sold are undermining people’s faith in fast broadband.

“Consumers shouldn't have to suffer from this speed lottery and have a right to get what they pay for,” he concluded.

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