Broadband News

Ofcom Consumer Panel asks ISPs to advertise real speeds

The Ofcom Consumer Panel Chairman has written a letter to the top six largest broadband service providers to ask them to provide clearer information to consumers about the speeds they should expect to receive on their broadband service.

Concern has been expressed by consumers who see speeds advertised as "up to", typically "up to 8 meg" but they find once their service is live, the speeds do not measure up. This can be a difficult task since the speeds vary depending on the quality of the telephone lines connecting homes and businesses to the telephone exchange. However it is possible to give users some indication of the likely speeds based on the line length which is something broadband service providers can look up.

The panel feels that at present consumers are not able to see what they are buying, how the products they are considering are likely to perform and what they can do if they are having performance problems once subscribed.

"...we believe that broadband customers are not at the moment getting enough information. We are of course aware of the technical reasons for the “up to” terminology that you use. I would however like to have your views about how these technical issues might be better addressed in terms of giving clearer information to potential customers"

Letter from Consumer Panel Chairman to large ISPs

The Consumer Panel has asked ISPs to also extend the cooling off period so customers can test out the connection speeds before they commit to a long term contract, a move which is likely to be criticised by service providers who often subsidise the costs associated with setup/termination of a connection as well as allowing customers to exit from longer contracts early if the quality of the service is well below the advertised speeds on a consistent basis.

Perhaps the biggest area we see broadband providers failing is when offering upgrades to existing users. The provider could very easily find out the speed the customer is currently getting and offer an estimate of what is possible based on the actual data from the ADSL hardware. This will often give a much better indicator than the BT Wholesale estimator. Of course you can do this yourself by finding out the current line speeds, attenuation, and noise margin figures from your ADSL modem and visiting sites such as this ADSL/ADSL2+ speed estimator.

One myth we often hear is people saying they have been told by their service provider that their new up to 8Mbps connection will stabilise after a ten day training period. The simple reality is that while the service may be more stable after a week or two of settling in, if conditions change (e.g. longer and colder evenings mean lots more electrical noise or people add phone extensions to the property) then the speeds you connect at may vary. Of course by stalling a customer for a few days they will probably be outside the seven day cooling off period and now stuck for the duration of the contract or face expensive get-out clauses.


Due to a number of factors, e.g. contention levels in the exchange, the distance the user is from the exchange, etc, I cannot see how an ISP can accurately advertize connection speeds in an advert.

  • g-bhxu
  • over 13 years ago

It's true, some users do get hacked off if they cannot get the full 8MB, but should they be paying the full price if they can't?

  • g-bhxu
  • over 13 years ago

As for "The Consumer Panel has asked ISPs to also extend the cooling off period....."

OFCOM should not be "asking" they should be demanding ISPs start the cooling off period after the 10 day training period and start fining those that don't

FYI there are some ISPs out there that start the 7 day cooling off period once you've given them your MAC code or signed up if this is your first venture into broadband.

OFCOM should now investigate the use of "unlimited" and "Fair Usage Policy applies" in adverts.

  • g-bhxu
  • over 13 years ago

g-bhxu hits the nail on the head, due to the way MAX products work it will be technically impossible to give an exact reading on what speed an individual will get.
I do also agree people should be given a longer period over which to decide if the connection meets their needs. Maybe shift that 10 day cooling off period to after the first 10 days when the connection should have so called stabalised, see people have a real idea of what they are gonna be getting in the long term with the ISP.

  • over 13 years ago

apparently 90% of consumers have no understanding of contention, so some wording to explain that may help - "the upper limit is set by the physics on the line at the time but you will only see the upper limit at off-peak times".

As the price is not a function of speed there is no case for discounting lower speeds. 1,2,up to 8M all cost the same Wholesale.

I recommend a 1 month contract ISP to those in doubt.

  • herdwick
  • over 13 years ago

"The Ofcom Consumer Panel Chairman has written a letter to the top six largest broadband service providers to ask them to provide clearer information to consumers about the speeds they should expect to receive on their broadband service."

I thought Ofcom were paid to regulate ISP's not suck up to them.

To me this is akin to a judge asking a convincted murderer to advise on how long he should be banged up for.

  • keith_thfc
  • over 13 years ago

The Ofcom Consumer Panel does not have the same powers as Ofcom.

  • andrew
  • thinkbroadband staff
  • over 13 years ago

I also agree with g-bhxu and Carpetburn that it is difficult to predict what speeds a customer will get. However, I think there should be more reporting of speeds in terms of an percentage of the maximum possible. ie If I sync at 6000kbps will I get the full 100% speed or only 50% of it at 3000kbps.

  • spectator
  • over 13 years ago

I'm sorry, but what part of 'up to' does Joe Public not understand? It seems pretty clear to me that 'up to' means 'up to'.

As they always say in US car ads (regarding fuel consumption), 'your mileage may vary'. This phrase is so well understood that it has now become a figure of speech for any situation or circumstance where not everyone will get the same result, for any number of reasons.

  • kennethsross
  • over 13 years ago

i agree with kennethsross. even banks use 'up to 6aer' or ads like 'savings of up to £10'.

what really bothers me is fair usage policies.
they makes it impossible to compare isps without being crawling through forums. the least they can do is omit 'unlimited' from ads that also have fup in them. just makes no freakin sense.

  • semo1
  • over 13 years ago

customer:is it unlimited
isp: yes
customer: ok so i'll download as much as i like
isp: you can't do that
customer: i thought i was allowed unlimited usage?..
isp: yes of course you are sir/madam
customer: why can't i dl as much as i like
isp: you can but as long as you conform to our fair use policy.
customer: so i'm given unlimited downloads but can't download too much
isp: you'll be fine as long as you follow our fup
customer:how much can i download then
isp: it's unlimited download allowance!
and there is no end to this conversation.

  • semo1
  • over 13 years ago

lol sounds like a convo i once had with a Pipex staff member lol, easiest way to confuse them is dont ask how much you can download but ask what it all means...
Ask them to explain what you can and cant do under the FUP...
Or ask why you cant download 24/7 at full speed and grab 500gig a month just using P2P if its unlimited....
Then ask them for the dictionary meanings of the words 'allowance' and 'throttle'... it doesnt get you anywhere but listening to idiot ISP customer services try to explain and just erm and ahh is quite funny if you are bored one day.

  • over 13 years ago

unlimited means without limit. A fair use policy implies a limit, even if it is fixed.

"Unlimited" as far as broadband connections are concerned should mean "limited only by the speed of your connection, and contention on our network"

Anything else, such as the requirement to adhere to UNSPECIFIED fair use policies simply isn't "unlimited" by any stretch of the imaginate.

Speeds should be specifies as the minimum download speed you will be expected to get on average, during peak times.

Simple really. Or it should be.

  • shaunhw
  • over 13 years ago

"One myth we often hear is people saying they have been told by their service provider that their new up to 8Mbps connection will stabilise after a ten day training period"

Here is an extract from Virgin <[email protected]>
You will notice that when your account is activated, the line speed will
slowly creep up to the maximum speed your phone line can handle. This can
take a few hours. It will then fluctuate for about 10 days whilst we test
your line to work out the maximum speed your phone line can handle whilst
still providing a reliable service.

  • garethwaldron
  • over 13 years ago

Here's the rub folks. If it costs an ISP aprox £260k per year for the Backhaul and then £approx £9 per month, the ISP has to pile in as many users as possible to get to break even.

BUT! BT used to imply that you could support 8000 users on a 155Mbps central. The actual usable bandwidth after data overhead is really 120mbps so divide 120mbps by 8000 users - it works out at about 15kbps each

  • Kempy
  • over 13 years ago

In reality its possible to suppport around 3000 users per 155mbps pipe. that means that every Gigabyte is costing the ISP dearly - so some are now being truthful about how much data you can download in return for the speeds being offered - don't buy unlimited unless you are prepared to pay what it really costs which is a lot!

  • Kempy
  • over 13 years ago

All I ask is that ISPs define their limitations numerically, so that customers can actually assess whether suitable for his need.

As it stands, FUPs amount to this: WE make up all the rules. We most certainly are not going to tell you what they are, not even if you ask nicely. We will change them whenever we like, as often as we like and we won't tell you when we do it either. But, if you break them, we will crush you!

So guess what F U P REALLY means!

  • Tropi
  • over 13 years ago

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