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Which! starts campaign for broadband speed guarantee
Friday 21 March 2014 05:31:03 by Andrew Ferguson

The UK broadband industry has a voluntary code of practice on speeds from Ofcom and the ASA requires advertising to only mention speeds that at least 10% of customers can get, but these do not go far enough with a Which! survey revealing that six out of ten broadband customers suffer slow speeds.

"The internet is an essential part of modern life, yet millions of us are getting frustratingly slow speeds and having to wait days to get reconnected when things go wrong.

It’s less superfast broadband, more super slow service from companies who are expecting people to pay for speeds they may never get."

Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director

No one disputes the opinion of those taking part in the survey, but there is little detail of the methodology used in the Which! report but BBC coverage reveals that this is survey based on opinion rather than asking people to test their speeds and tell Which! what the speed estimate was when they signed up they were asked if they had suffered from buffering when streaming or slow downloads. Even with these concerns there is a case to be answered for consumers to be given better information and education on broadband speeds and what their package can supply.

A speed guarantee for a broadband connection will probably achieve one of the following outcomes; either consumers will get used to picking between a service that guarantees 0.2 Mbps (Mega bits per second) on an ADSL2+ service and refuses to provide a service at all to those on longer lines, and on the superfast services this might guarantee might rise to 0.5 Mbps. Or a second option will be that providers will provide a guarantee but wrap it up in the many caveats that have to apply since they do not control our computers, wireless environment and the servers spread across the globe that actually make up the Internet, making the guarantee worthless.

Broadband speed issues are not just a UK problem, even in countries with millions using fully fibre optic connections, speeds still vary greatly and if anything the speed variation due to wireless and other factors are much more pronounced the faster your own broadband connection. The UK may be slightly different due to the constant price pressure with many of us chasing the best broadband deal, which invariably means the cheapest broadband deal, which all too often leaves little room for the pleasantries of compensation.

For those that feel they do have slow broadband speeds, while complaining to your broadband provider may seem the logical response, it is worth doing some research first to ensure you are getting the best from your connection already and we have a Broadband Speeds Guide that covers many of the basic issues, and running a broadband speed check and comparing this to the estimate given at sign-up can be useful.

To try and summarise is a few short words how consumers can find out if they are getting the best speeds possible, if your speed test result is close to the speed estimate given at sign-up and this speed is above 5 Mbps the chances are that any buffering may be nothing to do with your broadband connection itself but the variable nature of the Internet at large. For those where the speed test is a long way from the estimate (and how far is acceptable will depend on what price you pay) the first stage is to check what speed the broadband hardware is connected at (i.e. the connection speed, attenuation and noise margin figures) and whether a speed calculator suggests these are in the expected range, if this is the case then only by upgrading to a better broadband technology are you likely to go faster.

At the end of the day broadband speeds are a complex area and even when large sums of money are paid for guaranteed speeds on a business connection the caveats are numerous.


Posted by FTTH over 3 years ago
It should not be down to the customer to fault find, that just clouds the issue.

Here is a crazy idea, bill for what is delivered to the Modem.
Posted by themanstan over 3 years ago
yes devise billing method that ensures people who get poor connections won't be offered a service because there is no money In it!
Posted by 21again over 3 years ago
Most but not all of the folk I speak to expect BB to work the way it is sold to them by their ISP and who can blame them they're not all "geeks". Switch the TV on and it works the picture is viewable, flick a switch and the light is bright not half dim, turn a tap on and the water flows out rather than a dribble, of course there can be probs due to power cuts, burst pipes etc but that doesn't happen all that often.
I guess BB delivery to the end user can by the nature of the beast just be more problematic.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
@FTTH: Yes, that's crazy all right. It takes us back to the old days where everyone stayed online only as long as they had to. That'll kill off IPTV and the likes of Skype. Probably Facebook and Twitter as well though so perhaps not that bad an idea.

Hardly anyone I've spoken to knows or cares what their speed is. The quality can matter though and that's where the change is needed. The current fault/reporting process is unsatisfactory. Unless you're with AAISP you will struggle to get a fault dealt with properly.
Posted by ian72 over 3 years ago
@21again - you do realise that for your home electrics or your plumbing to work you need someone with knowledge of it to correctly install everything in your home? Just think if someone with no knowledge whatsoever did all the electrical wiring in their house - would you blame the electricity supplier when everything blew up?
Yet people blame the ISP even though they don't pay someone to professionally installed their IT, their network cables, their wireless, etc. Not the ISPs fault!
Posted by ian72 over 3 years ago
@themanstan - charging for what is delivered to the modem still does not take account of people having rubbish internal wiring or connecting sky boxes without filters. That all drops the connection speed and isn't the ISPs responsibility.
Posted by ian72 over 3 years ago
Oops - that last should have been to FTTH not themanstan...
I think this whole idea is likely to be inadequately thought through and shows that Which don't really understand how broadband services work. It will result in a very complex market as it will be difficult for ISPs to sensibly compare their offerings. It also has the risk of completely putting the nail in the coffin of FTTC and most people in this country will not willingly pay the full cost of FTTP. And even with FTTP there are many things still affecting speed as MrS has said in the article
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
Good luck to whoever tries to come up with a formal definition of what this means and how it is to be measured. Measuring sync speed on xDSL is relatively straightforward, but unless the installation and equipment at the customer's end is locked down, it's still beyond the ISP's control. As for real world speeds, there are a vast number of variables in test conditions and environment outside the ISP's control.
Posted by realBSG over 3 years ago
Anyone remember the 'no more upto' campaign over a year ago?
This is still relevant today - as Which? have realised...
Posted by New_Londoner over 3 years ago
Proposing "No more upto" simply demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge of what broadband is, namely a best efforts service without any SLAs.

People need to think through the unintended consequences of this sort of superficially attractive campaigning. You could well see all ISPs walking away from those on long lines, those in difficult to serve areas etc, resulting in few or no service provides willing or able to operate there. And I'm including both fixed and wireless networks.

Posted by New_Londoner over 3 years ago

Are you really suggesting most people are too stupid to understand "upto"? I don't, and think it's rather insulting to suggest otherwise.
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
All that would happen if "up to" was barred is that suppliers would give their products fancy names. You'd then have to contact them to get the anticipated (sync) speed. Already Ofcom insist that you can cancel contracts if sync speeds are significantly worse than the estimate.

None of that helps with measuring slowdowns caused by congestion etc.
Posted by JNeuhoff over 3 years ago
"You could well see all ISPs walking away from those on long lines, those in difficult to serve areas etc, resulting in few or no service provides willing or able to operate there. And I'm including both fixed and wireless networks."

That would be a good thing. And for the remaining connected areas charge for the actual speed available, and possibly for the bandwidth usage.

For all other areas: Above all, immediately scrap the BDUK, and let private enterprises do a proper FTTP jobs. Remove red tapes like fibre taxes and other nonsense.
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
The only way you'd get large scale FTTP rollout is to grant de-facto monopolies (which is what has happened in the US for NGA). Even then, they won't be interested in servicing uneconomic areas.

Then there's the issue of competing with "sunk" costs of copper. It's good enough for many and far, far cheaper.
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
nb. an interesting paper covering the issue of encouraging the market to install fibre against "sunk" costs of copper. They want to tax copper to subsidise fibre rollout (except they use the weasel phrase "create a fund"). Some may recall Alistair Darling's mooted phone line tax.
Posted by GMAN99 over 3 years ago
Is it so hard to understand what "up to" means?
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
@GMAN99: Sadly, yes. There's a lot of people who still complain about not getting the speed they were paying for. I think one problem is that there are two ways of interpreting the phrase. There's the correct way but there's also the 'It might sometimes go up to' way.

IOW some people think that 'up to 8Mb/s' means the line might sometimes go that fast and are annoyed if it never goes higher than 3Mb/s.
Posted by AndrueC over 3 years ago
(cont'd) and of course a lot of people just don't know how to test speed (using wifi, ignoring other members of the household using the connection) nor understand that speed test sites only test the connection to/from that site.
Posted by FTTH over 3 years ago
@GMAN99 - It's not hard to understand 'Up To' I agree. It is a marketing term aimed benefit ISPs, simple.

Add the 'Down to' and it is less attractive.

When I say Bill what is delivered to the modem, I meant the delivered Sync speed. For example

<3Mb = Pleb Tariff
>3Mb = Standard Tariff

@New_Londoner - 'You could well see all ISPs walking away from those on long lines'.

I can't see that happening - It's landgrab time. ISPs are going nowhere.

Posted by GMAN99 over 3 years ago
So people on the pleb tariff should pay even less ? How much less ? Broadband is already cheap going cheaper will mean ISP's won't offer a service as has been said , it costs the same to provide the service to each customer and if you cant make money from the pleb tariff they won't offer it, it's a business why would you
Posted by FTTH over 3 years ago
Yes they should pay less.

Here is an idea.
Essentially the Line is the issue so take the financial hit from there. Line rental is a cash cow we all know that. So hit the line rental and then the incentive is on the Network owner to sort things out. The competitive ISPs are all happy.
Posted by mdar5 over 3 years ago
Not necessarily the line.
'My' pole distribution point connects 3 houses
I get 12Mbps - the other 2 get around 7Mbps
Why is this?
Most likely because
a) their internal house wiring is crap
b) as a result of a prior fault the target SNR margin has been jacked up. mine is at 3 and I'll bet theirs is running at 12 or 15

Do they care - no
Posted by GMAN99 over 3 years ago
Line rental only covers voice doesn't it?

Sort it out how ? What if that is just the speed you can get on that line length , what do you expect the provider to do replace it with fttc or FTTP ? :)
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
Regulating copper prices below costs (inc appropriate RoCE) would fail in the courts. It would make the fibre investment case worse as it would be competing an even cheaper rival.

No private investors will put up £25bn for a universal fibre rollout as the numbers don't work. Only Vodafone might have the capital (after the Verizon sell-off).
Posted by TheEulerID over 3 years ago
There also seems to be some misconception that a telco board can just decide to invest 10s of billions. The fact is they can only do it by persuading banks or shareholders to stump up the money. That simply won't happen if there's no prospect of a return (the initial cable franchise holders essentially lost all their investment).
Posted by Dixinormous over 3 years ago
Which would go absolutely fruit loop at this:
Posted by 21again over 3 years ago
My connection is long to a 20CN very rural exchange the downstream attenuation being around 61db so no fast up to speed for me and no FTTC as the line is EO, my ISP helps me by giving me a unlimited (quite common nowadays)usage product at a very reasonable price on a market 1 exchange the ISP can't do any better for me as the laws of physics dictate the speed/throughput a long copper line can give.
Posted by chilting over 3 years ago
Which could start their campaign by getting consumers to check that they are getting the best available from their exchange. When FTTC is installed many consumers are not even aware that it is available and that they dont automatically get a benefit. Likewise many are putting up with up to 8 meg when they could get up to 24 meg on ADSL2 with another ISP.
Posted by chrysalis over 3 years ago
AndrueC I agree with you to a point, people dont care about their speed as long as its not terrible, so its good enough for mainstream app usage. eg. if mr bloggs is watching a movie on netflix on his widescreen tv and it starts pixelating/buffering due to lack of bandwidth, then he will start to care. However even if people dont care this doesnt make it right to sell products that are under spec'd, thats taking advantage of ignorance.
Posted by FTTH over 3 years ago
When you get the 'insufficient band width to watch this program' message on Iplayer it is a bit annoying. Maybe it is just me.

If it was 3-4Mb then possibly it would not be such a RedFlag but <2Mb should not be sold as Broadband. It is a compromised delivery and the ISP should not really be able to sell it as the same product.

I see I may be in the minority though :)

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