O2 are fighting back at Virgin Media over their stop the broadband con campaign which Virgin released yesterday to try and encourage other broadband providers to not hide behind misleading headline speeds that users can't achieve. Virgin stand slightly apart from others in that they have a cable-modem network which allows users to always connect on the 'last mile' at the full line rate which is sold to them, whether it be 10meg, or 50meg broadband. This, however, doesn't mean that they will then receive this full speed right through to the Internet. Virgin have published what they call 'typical speeds' under their 'speed honesty' pledge for these products, as measured by Ofcom, which show users tend to get close to the maximum advertised speeds.
Every other major broadband provider in the UK uses DSL to provide the connection which is limited based on the length of the line from the telephone exchange. Only those who live closest will receive the fastest speeds that broadband providers offer. Unfortunately, Virgin forgot to point out that their National Broadband products, available to the 50% of the country who aren't connected to their cable-modem network, also suffer from exactly the same problems as everyone else. Virgin continue to market these products as 'up to' the maximum speeds and they haven't been quite so honest and released typical speeds for what these users receive, although Ofcom don't currently do testing for these products.
O2 are keen to point out that they have focused away from shouting about headline speeds and have themselves called for ISPs to provide better clarity around speeds. Their new products, which were launched in September, try and help consumers choose a product based on what they intend to do with their broadband service rather than how fast the product is.
"When we launched our new broadband packages in September we made it clear we wanted to ensure there was better clarity for consumers around speeds. We believe that packages should be designed around customers needs and not speeds. While speed is clearly important for customers it should not be the be all and end all. At O2 we believe that customers should be told, upfront, what they can expect but also that they should buy a package that suits their online activity. All our customers receive whatever line speed their line can handle.
It is extremely important that the broadband market is cleaned up so that customers look for the right experience, customer service and value for money when they buy – not just headline speeds."Felix Geyr, (Head of Home and Broadband) O2
The approach O2 are taking is a much better way to help users choose the right package, and is something that Virgin could do well to learn from. Only the 'enthusiast' users really care what the underlying speed of their connection is, and the rest would be much better informed by knowing that it is suitable for watching iPlayer or just checking your e-mail and sharing the occasional photo with friends. Of course, this information can only really be given after you have provided your phone number, but the ASA could require providers to change the way they currently advertise their products so they are not using the speed as the main selling point, something that Virgin are one of the worst at doing (due to their speed advantages).