Broadband - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

9 Advertised Connection Speeds

133.  It is common practice for internet service providers (ISPs) to highlight "up to" speeds when advertising broadband products. These speeds represent the maximum which the ISPs are able to deliver. In practice, however, users rarely experience them.

134.  Internet Service Providers have claimed that the only reliable way in which they can measure broadband speeds is at the point when it leaves the telephone exchange. As we mentioned earlier in this Report, the speed that the consumer receives is dependent on a number of factors, including how close they are to that telephone exchange.

135.  In response to consumer concerns and complaints about the difference between advertised speeds and those experienced, the ASA made a series of rulings. These required ISPs to make clear in their advertisements those factors which affected the advertised speed in order to "set more realistic consumer expectations of the speeds they were likely to achieve".[163] Those rulings, which were voluntary, included:

  • The broadband speed must be preceded by the words 'up to', in order to make it clear that a consumer can receive anything up to the advertised speed;
  • the advert must contain a clear notice in the main body copy (i.e. not in a footnote) that states that speeds vary significantly subject to a number of factors, such as distance from the exchange; and.
  • the advert must also make clear where the service is available i.e. geographical limitations that might mean a headline speed is only available to those in, for instance, urban areas. [164]

136.  In December 2008, Ofcom introduced the Voluntary Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds which required all signatory ISPs to "commit to notifying the user of the maximum speed their line is capable of supporting at the point of purchase."[165] In July 2009, Ofcom published its "UK Broadband Speeds" Report which contained research conducted with 1600 consumers. The statistical data compiled by Ofcom confirmed that there remained a difference between advertised speeds and those experienced by consumers. It highlighted the fact while the average advertised "up to" speed was 7.1Mbps, the average connection speed in was 4.1Mbps.[166] Furthermore, of the study sample used in the report, only 9% of consumers on packages offering "up to" 8Mbps received over 6Mbps.[167]

137.  The Report provides a national insight into the UK broadband network. However, it should be noted that a national average does not accurately reflect the varieties of speeds in different communities. In addition, Ofcom examined the performance of individual ISPs, and this itself may not be accurate. BT is often the sole provider to rural areas who will, by virtue of technology, receive a slower speed. It is not clear that BT is being fairly judged when one considers they are operating in an area in which no other ISP will go.

138.  During oral evidence Mr Holoway stated that:

The thing is that the home consumers do not know it either—if next door, over the fence, someone has got it faster, how do they know? They do not know. [If a method of measuring speed representative speeds could be found] then discussion would rage amongst different people in different communities, saying "I am getting this speed with this company."[168]

139.  A recent development in this area is the emergence of websites which not only allow comparison of broadband prices, but also allow consumers to rate their provider, test their connection speed and mark it on a national map. The result is that the consumer can view the connection speeds their neighbours are receiving and which provider they are receiving it from. This has several advantages as it provides the consumer with a sense of the experience they will receive. However, the speeds listed are not averages and will depend on what time of day their neighbours tested their connection speed.

140.  We welcome Ofcom's Report on broadband speed. It provides an interesting insight into the market as a whole. We recommend that Ofcom repeat this study on an annual basis. We also welcome the increased level of information of broadband speeds provided by comparison websites. This has the potential to make a positive impact on the market in the same way price comparison websites have for fuel bills. We recommend the Government allow Ofcom the freedom to monitor the accuracy of these websites to ensure the customer is well informed; and for it to consider the value of a voluntary accreditation scheme.

163   Ev 49 Back

164   Ev 49 Back

165   UK Broadband speeds Report 2009, Ofcom, June 2009 Back

166   UK broadband speeds Report 2009, Ofcom, 28 July 2009 Back

167   UK broadband speeds 2009, Ofcom, 28 July 2009 Back

168   Q 102 [Mr Holloway] Back

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Prepared 23 February 2010