UK ISPs “False Advertising” Says Which?

Apparently "up to" means "no where near" for most people.

Ever wondered why your Internet connection speeds weren’t anything like those advertised to you? Well, according to Which? Online you aren’t alone. In a recent survey carried out with a sample of 272 people from around the country with various ISPs and “up-to x meg” packages Which? found that on average most people were getting significantly slower speeds than they believed they should. While those subscribing for (up to) one or two meg packages were generally getting close to the advertised speed, with an average of 0.8mbps and 1.3mbps respectively, eight meg customers were a lot worse off.

An average download speed of 2.7mbps is a far cry from the three times faster speed these customers thought they would be getting when signing up. Even the maximum speed was only 6.7mbps and is most likely from a customer sitting right next to their exchange. There are factors outside of ISPs control that determine line speed, such as cable quality and distance from your telephone exchange. The router you use to connect, for example, can greatly effect the speed you can achieve, especially as some older models were never designed to run above 2mbps and are simply incapable of doing so.

Contention ratio, that is how many people are sharing the same connection to your exchange, can also have a huge effect, especially at busy times of the day. For some, though, ISPs offering up to ADSLs theoretical maximum speed of 8mbps which is effectively impossible to achieved could seem like false advertising especially when BT itself says that around 78 per cent of its lines are capable of 4mbps at best.

The problem, Which? says, is that as long as ISPs use the phrase “up to” in their adverts they can’t be considered to be doing anything legally wrong by Ofcom – they never guarantee anything. However, with the huge discrepancies between the implied and actual maximum speed of your connection it seems reasonable that some protection for customers is offered. Which? thinks that Ofcom should at least enforce some level of protection for customers, suggesting that there should be a “no ties” period whereby customers can exit a broadband contract if the line speed is lower than they expected.

Of course the practice of offering “up to” whatever offer isn’t exactly new and unless Which? is going to lobby Ofcom (or similar bodies) to regulate all uses of the phrase “up to” in adverts that aren’t representative of the actual offer then the value of this appeal seems rather diminished. Of course “up to 50 per cent off but only on one product that you don’t even want, while the rest of our stock will have around a 50p reduction to make you think your still saving money” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.


Which report.

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