A survey published this morning by Ofcom looking at typical broadband speeds proves conclusively the speeds users get are less than half that of the advertised speed.
While the average speed increased from 5.2Mbps to 6.2Mbps between May 2010 and December 2010, it still represented only 45 percent of the average advertised broadband speed, which was 13.8Mbps. Indeed the report goes on to say that the increase was actually due to a change in methodology designed to be more representative of the way in which data is downloaded by consumers rather than an actual increase in speeds.
In its report to the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee for Advertising Practice (BCAP), Ofcom is recommending that if speeds are used in broadband advertising they should be based on a Typical Speeds Range (TSR), so consumers have a clearer idea of what speeds to expect. Ofcom also recommends that the TSR must have at least equal prominence to any maximum ‘up to’ speed, and that a maximum speed must be used only if it is actually achievable in practice by a material number of consumers.
The research looked at 11 packages provided by the seven largest ISPs in the market, representing over 90 per cent of residential broadband subscribers in the UK. Over 18 million separate service performance tests were carried out in over 1,700 homes during November and December 2010. Looking at the different technologies, Ofcom concluded that next-generation superfast broadband services were significantly faster than current generation services. Broadband services delivered by fibre-to-the-cabinet were measured for the first time and, along with cable services, delivered faster average speeds much closer to advertised speeds than was the case for current-generation broadband technologies.
One of the only good points to come out of the survey was the upload speed achieved by BT’s Infinity service which averaged at 8Mbps – significantly higher than any other service including Virgin’s ‘up to’ 50Mbps service which averaged uploads of just 2.5Mbps.
Virgin however were quick to get behind the survey's recommendations. Jon James, executive director of broadband at Virgin Media, said: "Ofcom's latest report is yet another damning indictment that consumers continue to be treated like mugs and misled by ISPs that simply cannot deliver on their advertised speed claims. “In a nascent market for next generation broadband, the sub-standard fibre optic services being sold are undermining people’s faith in fast broadband. Consumers shouldn't have to suffer from this speed lottery and have a right to get what they pay for.”
Ofcom made five main recommendations in its report:
- A TSR representing the range of speeds actually achieved by at least half of customers (around the median) should be used when using speeds in broadband advertising;
- If a maximum ‘up to’ speed is used in an advert, then the TSR must have at least equal prominence;
- Advertisers should include a qualification alerting consumers that they can confirm the likely speed that they will receive when buying their service;
- Any reference to broadband speed in advertising (for example, words such as “fast”, “super-fast” or “lightning”) must be accompanied by a TSR, which should have at least equal prominence to these words;
- The word unlimited should only be used when a service has no usage caps implemented through a fair usage policy.
Some ISPs have signed up for a more robust Code of Conduct which comes into force in July and those who have signed up have committed to explain to new customers the access line speed they are likely to achieve at home. While this won’t solve the problem, it may help and with Ofcom’s recommendations likely to be enforced sooner rather than later, we can hopefully look forward to more realistic advertising in the future.