The problems with the latest Ofcom campaign
The new Ofcom boostyourbroadband campaign has actually had us take a longer look at the Ofcom speed checker than we have before, the presumption was (and suspect many others believe so) was because Ofcom has powers to request data the checker would be correct and up to date. While it is very often right we can fairly quickly find problems such as some Openreach fibre-only premises that were built around April 2018 Ofcom does not even know about the postcode.
Slightly more worrying is how the checker handles VDSL (fibre to the cabinet services) which can be superfast or not depending on the distance to the little green cabinet, the Ofcom checker is still showing 80 Mbps down and 20 Mbps when we estimate 45 Mbps and Openreach themselves suggest 55 to 80 Mbps for one property. This suggests that Ofcom is showing the top end figure, which is possible but given all the complaints about over stating speed Ofcom should be better at showing the speed range. Our 45 Mbps in this case is lower because we estimate for the postcode centre point and then use a relatively pessimistic model for the speeds, i.e. we expect the vast majority to get faster than we estimate.
Ofcom is not always right one property we looked at has Openreach estimates of 19.6 to 35.5 Mbps but Ofcom says a nice 40 Mbps, we are lower again at around 13 Mbps on VDSL2.
What does standard broadband mean to you? We believe that many of the public will see phrases standard, superfast and ultrafast broadband and actually equate standard broadband with ADSL and ADSL2+ services. Why does this matter? So a property is showing as 18 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up after an Ofcom check and the person checking knows they can get around 7 Mbps today, do they actually understand that this 18 Mbps is from a VDSL2 service they can upgrade or wrongly assume this is just a wrong estimate for ADSL2+? Ofcom has attempted to be wonderfully technology agnostic in its checker but the public need cues to understand what packages to look at in providers listing, i.e. in this instance they will actually need to order a superfast service but during the order process their personal estimate will reveal that superfast speeds are not actually possible.
Unsurprisingly Ofcom when it get around to talking about getting the best deal, links to its like of accredited comparison sites and adds an Ofcom specific link to the Which? website, though the Which? checker is just another instance of the broadbandchoices checkers.
The problems are many with the accredited and almost all the other comparison websites, e.g. if Ofcom says a superfast service at 185 Mbps is availabel the public will not find that service on the comparison sites and Openreach FTTP areas have no mention of the ultrafast options and retailers who do not sell the FTTP service are shown, which leads to the public chasing down the lowest price providers and then getting rejected when trying to order. Add to this the number of smaller FTTP providers that do not show up and in theory should be in the Ofcom system and it is a recipe for confusion.
Our checker at https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/postcode-search has the widest range of providers mentioned in it and also has a short queue of smaller operators that we need to add. Our package search at only covers those services where we have added packages to the listings.
The ultimate question in the extremely competitive broadband comparison site market where they all try to grab prime advert slights or top ranking in google searches, is it fair for Ofcom to just promote accredited sites when our checking shows that in reality being accredited does nothing to improve the data quality and sites like our own are working hard to cover as broad a range of services as possible within the time budget.