The truth about broadband: Still more turtle than hare, study finds

Broadband, Features, Tech Digest news


In the ads on TV, broadband comes in like rays of light from the sky. Songs are downloaded in seconds, and videos are streamed without the slightest hiccup. Maybe you are one of the lucky ones whose real life broadband experience is similar to this – but for me it’s a good week if my broadband hasn’t gone on strike at least once.

The providers are working on the issue – laying new cable as fast as they can – but in the meantime there is a significant gap between the broadband quality that is promised us, and reality. According to findings from communications watchdog Ofcom, we are getting half the broadband speed the providers are promising us.

The average broadband speed received in Britain is now 6.2 Mbps (megabits per second), but the providers are advertising that we should be getting 13.8Mb, on average. This is a significant gap, and now Ofcom wants the internet providers to change their advertising to reflect the issue in a more truthful light.

Advertising rules
At the moment, providers are telling the customer the maximum speed they could get, but this remains a distant dream for most of us.

“The research shows that ISPs need to do more to ensure they are giving customers clear and accurate information about the services they provide and the factors that may affect the actual speeds customers will receive,” said Ed Richards, CEO of Ofcom. 1,700 homes were tested to reach Ofcom’s conclusions, looking at 11 broadband packages from the UK’s seven largest providers.

Virgin Media was the only network able to deliver anything close to its maximum promised speed, as Virgin benefits from a relatively new cable network. While network expansion is a priority for BT and the likes, much work still needs to be done. Only 22% of Britons have fibre-optic broadband access at the moment.

Trouble on the line
Things are however moving in the right direction: 6.2 Mbps average is better than the 5.2 Mbps average which was the case in 2009. But again this is only averages – many of us are still getting speeds of a meagre 2 Mbps.

While at first glance it seems like a good idea to force providers to tell us the truth, in reality there are problems. The speed of your broadband depends on where you live, and how close you are to the exchange. If providers were forced to give average figures, they could start cherry-picking customers to boost their figures, John Petter, managing director BT Retail’s consumer business told the Guardian: “Enforcing typical speed ranges is also dangerous as it could encourage more ISPs to cherry-pick customers who will increase their average, leaving customers in rural and suburban areas under-served. That would encourage digital exclusion rather than tackle it.”

But something needs to be done, because the study showed that while broadband speeds are getting higher, so are providers’ promises. 24% of UK fixed-line residential broadband connections had an advertised speed of above ‘up to’ 10Mbps in May 2010, compared to just 8% in April 2009, the report shows. In 2009, 58% of people received the speeds they were promised, but this figure drops to 45% in the more recent study. This means fewer people are getting what they thought they were buying – and this matter has nothing to do with digging ditches for cable and everything to do with advertising.

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