Skip Navigation

Sky call for an end to Virgin's 'stop the broadband con' campaign
Thursday 24 March 2011 11:16:41 by John Hunt

In November, Virgin Media started a new campaign to 'stop the broadband con' in relation to broadband speeds being advertised by competitors. The company complained that broadband speed advertising was misleading when it was sold as "up to" a specific speed, and it wanted other providers to be open and honest about the speeds of services it is selling. Sky have taken offence to the campaign and has had lawyers approach Virgin, giving them eight hours to withdraw the campaign before they contacted the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) requesting them to investigate.

"[The adverts] clearly go beyond the scope of robust and objective comparison and amount to an unjustified denigratory attack on Sky and its business practices."

Osborne Clarke, Lawyers acting on behalf of Sky

Virgin is in a somewhat unique position as the cable broadband service that it provides doesn't suffer from the same slow downs over distance that you see with traditional DSL based broadband using phone lines. This gives it a distinct advantage in that the speeds it offers will be the underlying connection speed, which is not the case with broadband services marketed as 'up to 8Mbps' or 'up to 24meg'.

"All ISPs provide individual line speed estimates before any customer signs up, meaning consumers are making informed decisions about which broadband services are right for them. In helps explain the high broadband satisfaction levels Ofcom found in its own research. On that basis, we've asked the ASA to investigate Virgin Media's campaign, which it now is."

Sky Spokesman

BT have also complained about the campaign to the ASA, and O2 defended the way in which speeds are described for their broadband products. The ASA have launched a consultation in to broadband speeds and the use of the phrasing 'up to' in describing products, and this may help resolve some of the issues with users being confused about what speeds can be received. Sky obviously feel the campaign needs further action than this, and we will wait to see what the ASA decide.


Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Why don't we just call a spade a spade - Virgin's cable products have a *fixed connection speed* which does indeed set them apart from *variable connection speed* ADSL services which are influenced by line length and interference factors.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Good for them. I don't hold out much hope of the ASA upholding the complaint but it's time someone called VM out on it.
Posted by MrTAToad2 over 6 years ago
What is a "Laywers" ? :)
Posted by ian72 over 6 years ago
So, great for virgin in cable areas but they also sell a ADSL product. As I don't live in a cable area I thought I'd check what they said. They don't say "up to" - great. Checked for my phone number and the speed is "3.8Mbps to 9.0Mbps". That covers a hell of a lot of bases!
Especially considering with Sky I get over 10Mbps and with Be was getting over 12Mbps.
Not much better than "up to" to me.
Posted by gbswales over 6 years ago
I really don't see what Sky have to complain about - they could also run cable and offer the same fixed speed services if they wanted to invest. You should expect better performance and up to 8MB IS a con - it should read "we offer speeds which can vary between 1mbs - 8mbs depending on your locaation" - or it should quote the "average" speed people can expect based on statistical averages through the day and across different areas.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Basing it on an average won't help. The average human has less than two arms and less than two legs.

1Mb to 8Mb means almost the same thing as 'up to 8Mb'. The only difference is that 'up to' doesn't indicate a lower limit which isn't the issue anyway.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

Did that nearly bankrupt the cable industry?
Posted by otester over 6 years ago
Posted by acpsd775 over 6 years ago
@otester yes more a less which is why they haven't major expanded in years lol.
Posted by Northwind over 6 years ago
Does anyone actually pick an ISP based on their advertised sync speed, anyway? It's not like every ISP has a different ADSL Magic Recipe.

Most folk that I know are more interested in usage restrictions, traffic management policies and quality of support.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
All a red herring anyway IMHO - confusing people by suggesting the a fixed sync speed has any relation to throughput is totally misleading. Look at the threads on this site that highlight the congestion on cable and actual throughput experiences, which sometimes fall below 10% of the sync speed.

How about a bit more honesty about teh real-world experiences of cable customers before Virgin focus on ADSL. At least with ADSL I can move to another service provider or even technology (LLU, FTTC).
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@Northwind:Most of the people seem interested in price :-/

But yeah - choosing by sync speed is unusual and generally rather pointless. Okay so you if you're lucky ADSL2+ might be quite a bit better than ADSL but for most people that choice doesn't even exist.

The irony is that no-one seems to mention the other issues - the ones that /are/ under the control of the ISP.
Posted by m0aur over 6 years ago
At peak times, the contention rate will create an 'Up to' anyway. Most ISP claims are total lies.
The old BT hub claimed greater signal/distance, but it only applied to the Fon channel which slowed the network if switched on. The claim for Homehub 3, is it is the ONLY router to intelligently switch channels & antennas for optimum signal — Total rubbish.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

That only applies to bad ISP's.
Posted by m0aur over 6 years ago

I have no experience of cable and am happy with my 6.75mb speed. But I would not have thought that cable/fibre could take an unlimited amount of traffic without slowdown, as there must be a limit to available bandwidth however delivered.
Posted by damien001 over 6 years ago
there are many place where cable does not work very well, plymouth is very patchy.

Also Ping on cable is a slot higher than adsl2+ running on fast path
Posted by Jimkirk363 over 6 years ago
its not just the upto that people get misled on, a friend of mine who lives in Swansea South Wales had a spotter out from Virgin as the opposite side of the street is cabled and to see if they would run cable to his side of the street. He was told no but also told ADSL would give him FULL 20mb in his area!
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

I would usually smash my head against the wall for the show of ignorance but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt this time round and answer your question...

That only happens if the ISP doesn't invest in their network, usually to keep profit as high as possible.

There are many unlimited options available at the moment that are honored and have no FUP/traffic management/protocol shaping etc. because they manage their bandwidth correctly and do not under-price their service.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
@otester:'Many' unlimited options? A few perhaps (I use one - Be) but the impression I get is that they are a dying breed.
Posted by m0aur over 6 years ago
best you go and smash your head against a wall, it may create an improvement in your attitude.
I am NOT talking about unlimited download service. I am saying that EVEN cable, unless unlimited bandwidth is available, must reach a point of slowdown due to high contention rates. The moans and groans from users would seem to bear this out. So, from my point of view, if you cannot answer a polite question without being rude, it is you that are ignorant.
Posted by strig over 6 years ago
Virgin's policy is more honest than Sky's - the max rate (non-adaptive) I could get was 1Mbit/s on a BT line. On Virgin 20Mbit I get consistent speeds of 19.5Mbit (on Samknows trial so figures are accurate).

A few times in shops Sky have tried to sign me up. I say that it's too slow as I am so far from the exchange. They insist that it is "up to 8Mbit", and treat it as 8Mbit. They do not understand the product they are selling. It's OK for someone savvy like me, but how many people have signed up to their broadband only be disappointed with the actual speed they achieve?
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

Be has an FUP.

ISP's that offer truely unlimited package(s):



Contention ratio isn't the only factor.


They aren't honest, they have traffic management for cable and for both cable and DSL they have an AUP.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
How about isp's like sky, O2 and BT just advertise typical speeds? what is so hard about that. Why do they need to mislead people to sell prodoucts? Sorry but I am with VM on this. Other countires that sell adsl do it in a different manner, they have lower speed lower priced products for those with poor lines. Not a one size fits all speed.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
strig that is true. On adsl I have managed anything from as low as a couple mbit up to about 7mbit, averaging 5-6mbit. Right now on VM cable I have 30mbit, which is actually provisioned at 32.2 mbit and I get over 30mbit throughput 24/7. If I brought a 24mbit adsl2 service I would still only get max 6mbit, barely 25% of advertised speed.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
andrueC we need to shake of this claim that line quality has no control over it, openreach have direct control over how good a line performs, isp's are customers of openreach and if they wanted to could put pressure on for changes, also isp's have control over how they sell their own products, they dont have to sell a up to 24mbit service to someone on a line capable of 1mbit. VM does have congestion but for the most part its upload only, download speeds can vary but generally it will still significantly outperform adsl and at least be able to get full speeds at some point of the day.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

Come back when you understand how DSL works, at the moment you only serve to mislead people.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
I know how it works but the way its sold is wrong. otester please tell me how you can justify an isp selling upto 16/20/24mbit whatever qwhen only 3% of people get above 16mbit and more than 2/3rds dont even get 8mbit? You trying to tell me thats fine? If thats fine whats wrong with me selling you a ferrari with a skoda engine inside. Have a look at how dsl is sold abroad it is done very differently.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
what the defenders have got wrong is they looking at the point of view that line performance cannot be improved, its supposedbly impossible. The 2nd mistake is they look at what it costs the isp, rather than looking at what the customers recieve in comparison to what is advertised and sold.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

I would like to see a system where first month is full price (optional) and you see what speed you get then you select a package based on that.

I think it is the minimum price whether it be Openreach or LLU that prevents this.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago
I would like to see how many people could actually get 16Mbit where LLU, a copper line, good wiring and 3dB SNRM.

If I can get 5.5Mbps @ 4km...
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
a combination of lax regulation and a competitive market is preventing it, the wholesale pricing system obviously doesnt help either. Upto 8mbit wasnt so bad as at least a large amount of people were able to get 8mbit or close to it, but since adsl2+ started been sold thats where the real injustice has been happening.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
your trial idea is ok, in regards to the 3db snrm, I think without SRA it would have too much reliability issues, but obviously more would be closer to 16mbit, how much more tho is anyone guess, but still would be a low number.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

You have only 1 real wholesale provider, BT, who is then forced via regulation to subsidize LLU, creating the false image of a "competitive market".

I would have to disagree in regards to ADSL1 being better, on ADSL1 I could only get 3.5Mb, on ADSL2+ I can get 5.5Mb. Not to mention it's ~£10-20 cheaper and unlimited (truely).

Technically if you get a lesser speed you consume less, so you can order a smaller package, saving money, so there is no issue.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

In my experience I haven't had any issue with 3dB, even had my router running at 0.5dB at one time :D

Just look at subscriber stats, majority of people aren't with decent ISP's so even if they had the best line conditions, that would be offset by the bad ISP.

Neighbour had BT (21CN) and I had LLU, he got 2.5Mbps, I got 14Mbps, as an example.
Posted by michaels_perry over 6 years ago
Line speed estimates are at best inaccurate! My line is said to be capable of 'up tp 1.5 Mbps' whereas the sync speed is around 2.4-2.7 Mbps.
Virgin Media are a cable/fibre PLUS ADSL supplier but all the stories assume they are cable/fibre only. So there is yet another misleading aspect to this story.
When speed tests become reasonably accurate, say within 10%, and the stories become more accurate then we can consider the implications.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
Speedtests should NOT be used for estimating line speed, that should be read direct from line termination equipment.

Speedtests are just a measure of throughput over both the local loop and the internet at that instant in time. Using large numbers of tests you can use statistics to talk about other information with some level of confidence
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

All well and good your router giving a 10Mbps sync but if you can only use 2.5Mbps of it due to a poor ISP that's all that really matters...

For reference another neighbour had Be and got 12Mbps.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
otester weird way of looking at it, so if I am slower it means I use less? you may have got an extra 2mbit on adsl2+ over adsl1 and your situation is unusual, a 3mbit connection normally wouldnt get that kind of boost. However the point remains you get only 5.5meg on a upto XXmbit product and only 3% get close to it, these are simple cold hard facts. Andrew you can discredit the measurements used but funnily enough VM dont seem to have been impacted by the so called flawed measuring.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
difference between congestion and poor sync speed?
congestion will not normally be 24/7 around the clock so it may slow down at peak but at 4am will likely be full speed. So it is much less severe a problem.
sync speed, stays slow all the time.
in addition adsl isps are not immune to congestion, so they can still slow down from congestion (and some do) as well as sync speeds so its actually a double whammy. The ASA told VM they cant advertise the differences between themselves and adsl, and they expected VM to take that BS lying down?
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

Weird? Basic math...

3Mbps = 0.375*2592000 = 972GB per month max.
5.5Mbps = 0.6875*2592000 = 1.782TB per month max.

"wouldnt get that kind of boost"

Question isn't how many get close to it, but how many COULD get close to it if they optimized their connections.

Regarding VM, please research the difference between DSL and Cable.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
Its all very well saying that contention only applies during peak times, that you might get decent speeds on cable at 4:00am, but I'd like to see you use that justification in your advertising!

For most of us, knowing that we can get the full service in the early hours is interesting but totally irrelevant. The fact is that Virgin focuses on sync speed and totally disregards throughput, when the latter is what impacts on real-world performance.

Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
Cable can suffer from congestion on the shared coax segments, as well as on the backhaul, and this is likely to get worse as more people are "upgraded" to faster packages, and also as even faster options are launched.

So until Virgin addresses the end-to-end performance then this is no more than a PR stunt and not worthy of meaningful debate.

Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
If it leads to the ASA insisting on "typical" speeds or similar then it really will be guilty of a major disservice to the majority of consumers. I find it incredibly patronising that Virgin suggests that we cannot understand the concept of "up to".

Quite what I'd gain by being told about a typical speed is beyond me as the chance of it applying to my particular line is slim. I think this is far more likely to cause confusion, and to require large amounts of small print to explain.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
if you want feedback from a VM customer then I will give it, 30mbit 24/7 no visible contention on download speeds. We can talk about VM compared to BT services all day long and the cold hard facts have VM light years ahead. Yet you guys are still disputing it, these are independant facts drawn up by samknows and ofcom, there is nothing to argue, they are cold hard figures. The aruing point is whether or not adsl isps should be allowed to carry on with misleading advertising that is not even close to typical performance of their customers.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
The only gain from allowing it is to keep low subsidised prices for the 'few' who get good sync speeds. All I am reading is comments not liking the truth I am saying but no actual reasons given to continue to allow isp's to advertise speeds less than 5% of people can get.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
I have an idea, remove ofcom from the market altogether. Lets see how good BE and sky are without enforced pricing and how BT charge for services when the shackles are removed, I suspect burst speed pricing would make a come back.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
Whilst I don't doubt your experience regarding cable speed, I note from the various threads on TBB that many are complaining of congestion and suggesting they are only getting 10% of the advertised performance.

Regarding "up to", I fail to see how that can be misunderstood. IMHO it is far less misleading than "typical speed" or similar options.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
new londener are you still trying to dispute the figures? ADSL can be much worse people getting 1/20th of advertised speed, even 1/30th or more, and thats 24/7 not just during peak times. You can keep evading the point tho if you like, 2/3rds dont even get 8mbit on adsl2+ services and only 3% get close to advertised speeds, on VM the % are very different and over half of people get within 95% of advertised speeds.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
To be clear, what I'm trying to do is to highlight that cable users are reporting problems with congestion as the various system upgrades come through.

The cable architecture suffers from an inherent disadvantage, namely that the coax segment linking you to the cabinet is shared. This provides an additional point of congestion as speeds or the number of users increase, bearing in mind higher speeds consume increasing numbers of bonded channels.

Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago

You can split the segment, but that will require more investment, which has been in short supply from Virgin for many years. As evidence, note the patry addition of around 170,000 homes passed over the last year.

The real issue remains that Virgin should not confuse sync speed with throughput. There are a lot of complaints about this from your fellow cable customers at present, many of which are not due to the ironically named "superhub".
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
If half the people get within 95% of advertised speeds then presumably half don't? Hardly a ringing endorsement of the Virgin campaign then!

And certainly not a valid reason to move from a very clear and easy to understand "up to", to a very confusing and hard to explain to a novice "typical speed" that may or may not apply to me.

Posted by azurescorch over 6 years ago
Some one was saying how great Virgin is. So here's my opinion

Virgin are a pathetic isp. My whole postcode has suffered from high PL and jitter since November, I never get 10mbps, 5mbps is my average max. Some time's it's as low as 1mbps. Games were unplayable on peak. Now it's gotten worse and they're unplayable off peak. They have been promising fixes "next month" since December. Their forum has a 16 page thread on this and no member of staff has helped. Their customer service phone support is nothing short of disgraceful.

So to put it quite crudely Virgin can go f' themselves.
Posted by chris6273 over 6 years ago
I do NOT understand how Virgin can get away with this!

If you are in a congested cable area and you do not get eg. 50Mbps throughput 24/7 then it is still an 'Up To' product!

So, Virgin are still using 'Up To' products even though they don't think they are!

Simple really...
You must be logged in to post comments. Click here to login.