Home / Opinions / Britain's Broadband Backlash

Mis-selling & Coverage

Gordon Kelly


Britain's Broadband Backlash

You're a savvy bunch sometimes. On Thursday I wrote that Virgin Media is talking up prospects of 400Mbit cable broadband within the next few years and - far from being thrilled - not one of you reacted positively, not one. And you know what? You were all completely right.

I'm not specifically picking on Virgin here, I don't believe you are either. I'm not even picking solely on fixed line broadband, I (and I believe you) are sick and tired of all supposed 'broadband services' across the UK. Backing me up are new figures from online retailer Broadband Expert, which also announced last week that it has seen a 57 percent drop in the number of people signing up for mobile broadband in just the last twelve months. This got me thinking.

My theory: Britain has fallen out of love with broadband. It's a contentious viewpoint and I'm sure not one you will all agree with. It is also not something that's easy to investigate without hitting the tomb-like lengths of the Digital Britain report, but let's give it a shot.


'Broadband'. Broad-band. Doesn't it sound fantastic? Doesn't it sound like all your worries are now over? For a relatively modest outlay you can access speeds of "up to" 8/16/20/40/50Mbit per second. Mobile broadband isn't far behind with promises of "up to" 3.6/7.2Mbit per second? What's more there are 'unlimited' data allowances. Praise Be! Yet as we all know, the problem is 'up to' means three fifths of four tenths of sod all and unlimited has very little to do with the dictionary.com definition of "not limited; unrestricted; unconfined... boundless; infinite... without any qualification or exception; unconditional."

Thankfully this month ASA (the Advertising Standards Association) has stepped in to investigate use of the term 'unlimited', but 'up to' still remains. As a nation we've been under protected and cynically mis-sold for far too long. We're not just frustrated about this, we're angry too.


According to providers, UK broadband coverage - both fixed and mobile - lies somewhere north of 90 per cent. Nine in 10 of us should be thrilled with our services, but we're not. The problem is this 90 per cent figure refers to population, not land mass as Ofcom's infamous 3G coverage report (below) showed last year. So not only can one in ten of us struggle to get any form of coverage where we live, but those who travel away from populated areas to such backwaters as motorways or *gasp* the countryside consistently hit black spots too.

"I think I could cry a little bit," said reader Joseph Middleton on the 400Mbit Virgin Media story. "20 minutes from Cardiff and I'm considered rural and enjoying 1.4mbps and pay the same rate as you folks in London."

This is only half the problem, however, because coverage does not equal service. More correctly service equals bandwidth and during peak times - you know, the times when most of us want to use it - both fixed and mobile broadband services can grind to a halt.

"Sadly the technology has not lived up to the hype," added Broadband Expert's commercial director Rob Webber when announcing the drop off in mobile broadband sales. "We receive a huge amount of feedback from customers complaining of inconsistent or non-existent connections and speeds comparable to dial-up or worse."

comments powered by Disqus