The Westminster eForum operates with the aim of providing a place where issues can be discussed and information or ideas exchanged between industry and policy makers in respect to the whole world of e-commerce and the internet. The most recent meeting on 21st November addressed the issue of 'delivering next generation broadband'.
Paul Allen the editor of Computeractive magazine was in attendance who addressed the audience in respect to the three month campaign for Crystal Clear Broadband that Computeractive has been running.
"Advertising broadband by maximum theoretical 'speed' isn't helpful for the average consumer, providers need to compete on the other benefits they can offer. Our research suggests that, at present, consumers are rarely receiving advertised speeds.”Paul Allen at eForum
For many visitors to thinkbroad.com this will come as no surprise, since our audience is more likely to understand some of the technical reasons as to why the headline advertised speed is not likely. A great many broadband providers do provide some guidance on possible connection speeds when using their online sign-up pages, but the situation seems to be slightly different with telephone sales. Some people report to us things like being told they should get over a certain speed, and people are invariably disappointed when download speeds don't do this. Certainly there is lots of scope for clearer advertising to explain the issues around why ADSL and ADSL2+ services do not always connect at the advertised speed, and to explain that at peak times download speeds may be slower than expected.
The Ofcom Consumer Panel which provides advice to Ofcom raised advertising of broadband speeds as an issue this week.
“We hope that Ofcom will closely monitor this to see whether the industry adequately addresses these issues; and if this does not happen, to consider how Ofcom and others should respond in order to ensure the provision of clear information for consumers of broadband services.”Colette Bowe on concerns over broadband advertising
If one looks back to a few years ago, when most people had just a 0.5Mbps connection, it was very common to see downloads running at around 0.45Mbps with very little variation. As far as many people are concerned if they sign up to an up to 8Mbps product and connect at 5Mbps they expect something that downloads at a speed some to 8 to 10 times faster compared to their old 0.5Mbps service. The reality is that contention which was not very visible some years ago has become more common place. With some providers using traffic management techniques it is even harder to understand what speeds to expect, since a download over FTP may be faster than a file downloaded via HTTP from the very same internet server.
The eForum was not just focused on advertising issues, but was discussing the next generation of broadband for the UK. This was not just a roll-out of ADSL2+ by BT Wholesale, but services based around the roll-out of fibre, a figure of £15bn for the cost of laying a national fibre to the home network was suggested. In comparison the Crossrail project that links east and west London is set to cost £16bn.
£15bn is a lot of money, but as suggested at the eForum given that a new network could have a lifespan of 50 years the cost looks much more reasonable. In terms of advantages to the country as a whole, if it led to more people working from home it could reduce the amount of traffic congestion on the roads. The problem seems to be that no single company wants to take the lead, and as suggested there is a 'policy vacuum' among the major political parties. The image of broadband being the realm of spotty teenagers spending days playing games across their broadband connectiions means it may not be something that gets a party political kudos and thus often remains a long way down the list of priorities for policy makers.