back to article Ofcom demands ISPs close 'upto' gap

A big gap remains between the marketing of broadband speeds when compared with their real-life performance, Ofcom confirmed this morning. The telecoms watchdog released figures today that found that the average advertised speed is currently sold as 13.8Mbit/s by broadband providers, even though in reality the speeds were "less …

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Dear Jon James,

Publishing figures and not meeting them is not a 'damning indictment'.

A 'damning indictment' is to be hypocritical and not publish any figures at all.

Yours sincerely,

Yet Another Victim Of Your Unknown And Arbitrary "Detrimental Usage" Limits

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hope springs eternal

hopes ISPs will respond positively to - no, they will do nothing and still keep dishing out bullsh1t, since OFCOM will actually do nothing.

Hope is about their best weapon.

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Virgin Media

I've been with VM for the last few years and pretty much always get close to top speed (usually over 46Mb/s)

They also advertise "x is what our customers typically get" on their BB plans so it's as clear as it can be what you're going to get when you sign up.

If ADSL providers were advertising "up to 8Mb/s" and typically giving 6Mb/s or so I wouldn't have much of an issue with the way it's advertised but a lot of people I know get 2Mb/s or less which is too extreme of a difference

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This looks like an advert for Virgin Broadband

Whereas I have seen previous post elsewhere on El Reg that have expressed differing opinions regarding their service.

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Re..This looks like an advert for Virgin Broadband

I have Virgin, and I'm not too happy with my 10MB (Large) broadband - I get about 4-6ish MB/s from it, on a good day. At 3 in the morning. After I've chopped the wires to everyone else's house on my street. Unfortunately, everyone else on my street knows this trick, so you have to get there first.

However, almost everyone else I know who uses VM gets roughly what they pay for.

The snag is, when VM works, it just works. When it doesn't work, getting VM to first acknowledge that there's a fault, then second, you have to get them to do the work, which in my street means quite a huge level of work - the cables date back to the early 90s, and they need replaced, along with the streetside boxes - alas, VM have decided that whipping out their impressive girth of 50MB/s (for a few users) is more important than getting the (few) customers with intrinsic problems sorted.

Headlines are always good to trot out at shareholder (and creditor) meetings.

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Facts

Don't you hate the way they get in the way of a good moan?

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Oh not again!

OFCOM, like a blind, old toothless hound, take them up the vet's and help them on their way to a better life!

OFCOM spouting about consumers not getting their money's worth again for the 10th time last few years, then doing bugger all about helping us to sort it out. OFCOM, we already know and have been complaining for donkey's, but no sod will listen! So unless you're going to do something about it, shove off!

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Unhappy

Now if OFCOM could only get rid of.......

Unlimited * downlad packages

* limited to some figure that we think you shouldnt exceed

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"Unlimited" is the REAL problem

Agree with you about "unlimited", but it doesn't surprise me that the retards at OFCOM chose to focus on "up to" and ignore "unlimited".

ISPs do not control where the customer chooses to live, nor do they have control over where exchanges are located, so using the term "up to" is a perfectly reasonable (not to mention entirely accurate) way to describe the product's potential maximum sync speed (i.e. you could get any speed up to the speed shown).

Would it be useful to know that actual speed you will get if you signed up (rather than the theoretical maximum)? Sure! But unless the ISP is clairvoyant, you'll only ever find this out by actually connecting to the service. Even predictions based on existing router stats / line length can be wildly inaccurate.

Rather than trying to make ISPs responsible for something over which they have no control (assuming that they are not choosing to impose artificially low sync speeds) perhaps ISPs should instead be forced to allow quick, penalty-free exit from a product that doesn't meet a certain percentage of the advertised sync speed. The user can then make a judgement whether to leave or stay based on actual real-world results of their particular line.

The use of "unlimited" however, is an entirely different situation.

The ISP DOES have full control over how much bandwidth they choose to supply (up to the capacity of the technology being used). If an ISP has deemed it uneconomical to allow "unlimited" usage, that's fine, but remove the word "unlimited" and state what limits you ARE happy with.

It's not just ISPs that do this, phone companies do it too by way of so-called "unlimited" call packages that artificially limit the length of calls and the total number of calls.

By no stretch of the imagination can arbitrarily imposed ISP or Phone Company "limits" be considered "unlimited", and that's before you even get into "Fair Use" (fair for who exactly?).

If you are limiting your service to say 1000 minutes a month then just call it a "1000 minutes a month" product rather than trying to redefine the meaning of a perfectly well understood and established word such as 'unlimited'.

Are OFCOM doing anything about this blatant "unlimited" lie though? Are they buggery!

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Anonymous Coward

Line limits..

The ISPs have a good idea of line limits when you sign up. I'm on my 3rd ISP, I can only get ADSL. I was advertised up to 8mbit. The 3rd ISP I switched to actually had the nerve to tell me the line couldn't get support better than 6.2mbit. So the other ISPs were quite happily selling me up to 8mbit when it was impossible to ever get that speed, and they were probably well aware of the fact.

Guess which ones were the larger ISPs...

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BT illogical

I live in a city centre and I get around 0.5-1.0 Mb/s. I have a friend who lives in the north west in a town who gets 8Mb/s no problem. When BT were deciding which exchanges to upgrade to "Infinity" they obviously chose the one where he lives and already gets 8Mb/s. Please BT, tell me where is the logic in that situation ? You deprive some parts of the country of decent speed even when living in a city, and then upgrade the ones that already provide better speed. Idiots

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The buggers out to sort out the connection

In the last couple of weeks our ADSL connection has been pants. OK we're out in a small country village and do get on average 4-5 Mb/s, but in the last couple of weeks the connection has been dropping out every 10-15 minutes. Then you'll get an 8 hour stint of OK then its up and down like a $5 whore.

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Err

I kind of doubt that they made the decision where to upgrade based solely on your speed and that of your mate. Everyone will get different speeds based on their line length and quality - what makes you think that your speed is the same, or even statistically relevant to, the other people served by that exchange?

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@ Anon (BT Illogical)

Whether you get 1Mbps, or 8Mbps has got little to do with the exchange. Key deciding factor at those speeds is line length.

At the end of the day, BT Is a business. They're going to prioritise those areas where they think they can make money. This is where the logic is.

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Other people on that exchange

Because I know other people at the other end of that area, nearer to the exchange, and they indeed get about the same as me. Oversubscribed exchange

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Wel

If it's oversubscribed on the exchange infinity makes it worse, not better. Need to increase backhaul speeds, not last mile speeds.

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A good start

But when are they going to get round to the providers gratuitous misuse of the English word "Unlimited"

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Unhappy

What about a proper SLA

We don't have an electricity network that supplies 'up to 240V' and drops to 5V during peak times. There's no reason our data connections should behave badly either. The only way to ensure we get a proper service is to insist on some sort or service level agreement.

I like the idea of a Guaranteed Minimum Throughput (GMT) which means not just the rather meaningless adsl sync rate but the end-to-end data rate including contention and effects of peak loading.

I would reserve the term 'broadband' to describe a service where the GMT was 2Mb/s or greater at all times. Compensation to be paid should the supply ever drop below this.

Ofcom would need to put in place a standard independent way to measure the service level.

I doubt, right now, very many connections could be described as 'broadband' by this measure but without such enforceable standards we will continue to suffer amateurish standards of supply and be ripped off by our woefully dishonest network providers.

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"Up to 240v"

Actually, FYI the nominal line voltage here in the UK is 230v - and if you check you will find that it does vary quite a bit. United Utilities regard anything from 210-250v as being acceptable for domestic and light industrial/commercial supplies. This will fluctuate throughout the day depending on local demand. So your mains voltage is almost as variable as ADSL speeds...

The problem with Ofcom's moaning about the 'up to' broadband speed issue is that it fails to take into account the fact that different services (ADSL/cable) work on inherently different technologies. Whilst it is therefore reasonable to predict a cable service will be near to its advertised speed, with DSL technologies it is simply not possible to estimate accurately in advance, due to there being multiple factors which can affect the speed.

So what we have here is another example of unreasonable conditions being placed on tech suppliers because the average consumer is not intelligent enough to look at how something works, even on a basic level. This will probably mean poorer value services for all in the long run...

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WTF?

GMT?

GMT - or as it's more properly known, CIR (committed information rate) is available from operators. But - it will cost you ten or twenty times what you pay today for your broadband.

The reason broadband is so cheap is that the backhaul bandwidth (from the exchange to the peering point) is shared between 10 or 20 or 50 or 100 users. The sum of all the last mile speeds is far greater than the capacity of te backhaul. Last mile speed does not equal throughput. If you want a CIR you can buy a business product which will offer it, but expect to pay hundreds of pounds a month.

This is simple economics - if you want 10M of bandwidth all to yourself that in a consumer model is shared between 20 people, you'll need to pay the same for that backhaul as those 20 people combined do. Much like, I guess, if you demanded your own bus for trips into town instead of sharing it with other people.

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@Your Retarded

"another example of unreasonable conditions being placed on tech suppliers"

No. We don't.

What we have is tech suppliers knowing the above problems and wilfully deceiving the public into thinking they are going to get what they actually pay for.

The tech suppliers are complicit in this deceit. They are not the innocents here.

Your other statements I agree with :)

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BT sure wont like this..

I used to be on Virgin Cable when I lived in Northampton and for 10 years, had a great service, and top speed. I have since moved to Spalding and had to go with BT, as they were the only ones that could provide me with a new number, so had to sign up to their broadband. The advertised speed, at time of signing to the “up to 20mb” service on their web site was between 5mb and 6mb. In reality it turned out to be around 512K, and only after I changed the master socket and put in an iplate am I able to get nearer to 2MB. No wonder BT are running scared off this proposal. The worst part it’s costing me as much for this service, as I was paying for 50MB on Virgin.

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Hmm @pikey

Your comment actually highlights another issue in this argument - often customers suffering from poor speeds are in that situation because of the condition of their own internal wiring or equipment.

I'm sure readers on here would sympathise with those dealing with a belligerent user that insists the problem is not their fault!

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Anonymous Coward

@Your Retarded

Which is why the first thing any broadband supplier does is get the user to remove their internal wiring from the 'system' and run the router straight from the BT box.

They then inform them that if they have to send an engineer out to fix the problem and it's actually the customers wiring - they will have to charge for it.

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@Your Retarded

All wiring up to and including the Master Socket on your premises is owned and maintained by BT.

If that's the cause of the problem, it's still BT's duty to repair it - and technically, you're not allowed to touch it. (That's not to say that nobody does. Just that BT could charge you for it if they can show that you broke 'their' equipment.)

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WTF?

I've said it before and I'll say it again...

This is an easy problem to solve.

Let the ISP advertise what ever UpTo speed they like, along with what ever price they want.

Measure the average speed a customer gets and the customer pays the same ratio of the advertised price as they get with the advertised speed.

i.e. Advertised at 20Mb/s for £15/month, average speed is 10Mb/s the customer pays £7.50/month.

Hey presto, suddenly the ISPs income is directly related to service they are paid to provide.

The ISP can put another customer onto the exchange and gain an extra income stream but doing so will affect the average speed all the existing customers recieve so their bills go down by a little bit.

It doesn't have to be measured every month, maybe a test once a year to set the price for the next 12 months would be enough.

You would have the problem of ISPs prioritising traffic to the test server, which would have to be controlled by the regulator, but that doesn't seem like an insurmountable problem.

In a world where smart energy meters are being mandated by government to provide realtime feedback of energy use in the home and back to the company, it doesn't seem like it should be too hard to measure data transfer statistics to be sent back to a central server.

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Not sure

I don't know how that would work in practice. What speed are you measuring? Last mile? Throughput? The former tells you nothing about the latter, and the latter is subject to influence beyond your ISP's control.

You can buy circuits today with a CIR (committed information rate) but the cost is ten or more times what people pay for consumer DSL.

Also - the cost of providing you with service doesn't change just because you have a long local loop. Your suggestion would result in higher prices for all.

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Anonymous Coward

@Terry Barnes

Bollocks.

The problem we are constantly being told about is the amount people are downloading. That's why the suppliers keep trying to restrict people's 'unlimited' services.

If I can only download at one third the potential max then I should not be paying for the max. Simple as.

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Really?

So you expect to be able to transfer data at the headline rate, 24/7? Then you need a business grade private service, which will cost hundreds and hundreds of pounds a month. Bandwidth sharing and the lack of SLAs is what gets consumer broadband down to the tiny prices we have today.

The obvious alternative is for ISPs to meter usage and charge accordingly. I've not done the sums but it would likely cost £1-£3 per GB. The current model means that people who do next to nothing with their connections subsidise the big users. It would be ironic if the complaints of those subsidised big users meant that they ended up paying more under a fairer system.

I think really those are the three choices - cheap unlimited which does really have some limits for £15 a month, true unlimited for £500 a month or PAYG for £2 a GB. What's your preference?

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WTF?

Bloody Hypocrites...

Stop using the fucking "Unlimited" prase in both phone calls and internet access.

Unlimited - without limits, not fair use, not redail after an hour.

now shut up and get you own house in order first you lying bastards....

/Rant off

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WTF?

Here we go again

So its still all about advertising "correctly". Thats what OFCOM exists for? As if we needed to know about slower sppeds. Why cant they just prosecute instead of submitting their "findings" and survey reports to another comiitee?

B******S all. Wasting taxpayers money on inane surveys.

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Idiotic

There's nothing wrong with 'up to'. It is a technically accurate description of the technology. If a customer wants a personalised estimate based on their particular line then all ISPs will provide it. Giving an average figure is pointless. The average will vary by region - generally speaking people living in the South East of the country will get a higher average than those in the north due to greater urban density.

They also don't seem to be saying whether it's connection speed or throughput that should be quoted. If they concentrate on throughput (as a %ge drop at peak times perhaps) then it would have more merit. That at least is under the control of the ISPs.

Concentrating on connection speed will not do much to enhance customer choice. Most ISPs don't own the important part - the local loop - so don't have any control over connection speed anyway. In fact it may do more to harm customer choice. The only way most ISPs can raise their average is to decline to accept customers on long lines. So all those poor buggers currently on less than 2Mb/s can probably expect to see their choice of ISP tend toward zero.

What Ofcom/ASA should be doing is banning 'unlimited' and as noted above - talking about throughput as a %ge of connection speed. My ISP (BeThere) gives me 85% of connection speed 24/7/365. That's because it's one of the best ISPs in the country.

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Pirate

@AndrueC

"There's nothing wrong with 'up to'."

You try paying your ISP 'up to' what they bill, in line with the service they deliver and see how far you get.

"Most ISPs don't own the important part - the local loop - so don't have any control over connection speed anyway."

ISPs may not have control of local loop, but they do have control over pricing and backhaul. Getting away with charging for a service that can never be delivered due to the local infrastructure and contention is dishonest and stifles investment. Why bother with new kit when the money is coming in anyway and the "competition" won't provide anything better? Isn't this the kind of thing that market forces and regulators are supposed to prevent?

As CaptainHook suggests, your bill should be pro-rated to the service you actually receive. Then you incentivise the ISP and local loop provider to invest. And if you bill for actual data usage, rather than headline speed, it actually makes sense to help your customers download as much as they can as quickly as possible.

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Ofcom blaming the wrong people?

I can accept Ofcom having a go at the ISPs over their advertising terms, but I think it's a bit unfair for them to have a go at them over the actual speeds achievable. Only two companies have any control over that - Virgin if you are on cable and BT if you are on ADSL. Since they seem to be bashing the ADSL ISPs more for their poor connection speeds, it strikes me that Ofcom are aiming at the wrong target and should be beating up BT over sticking with ancient copper wires to the home.

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Three factors

But but but...

There are three factors that affect the 'speed'.

1) Bachaul capacity

2) xDSL kit employed

3) Local loop characterstics.

The first two have just as much impact as the third, and they're under the control of the ISP. Having a 16M last mile speed is pointless if at peak times there's only enough backhaul for 512K.

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xDSL kit deployed

1) Depends on whether we are talking contention speed or sync rate. I was referring to sync rate.

2) That's only true if the exchange is unbundled. My exchange serves a population of around 20,000 people and several large businesses and the only unbundled ISPs we have are Orange (since their HQ is located here), C&W and Talk Talk. Pretty poor choice really.

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IT Angle

In other news...

We can confirm that a bear, DOES in fact shit in the woods.

I dont know anyone who doesn't know that they won't get the speed they quoted (and most people couldn't quantify the speed anyway! Beyond how fast they can buffer redtube, errr I mean YouTube anyway)

Perhaps the response should be that the ISPs dont have to change there advertising so they can still claim they their pie in the sky quotas but we will agree to pay 'up to' x amount and when they fail to deliver, so shall we:D maybe then they will concentrate on improving their quality of service rather than just trying to fob everyone off on excuses whilst installing fibre cables for absolutely no one I know!

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Go

"Up To" an "Unlimited" amount

Ofcom should force them to stop offering "unlimited" services unless it truely is unlimited. If it has a "fair use policy" (i.e. a limit), then it is by definition, not unlimited.

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Boffin

Isn't this a bit like....

A motor manufacturer says their 2.0ltr diesel will do 5lt/100km and another company comes along and says "well ours will do 4ltr/100km so we're better, buy ours". What they don't tell you is the test conditions nor do they say that it will change depending upon how/when you use it. (I'm considering profiling and congestion here!)

So what is the real 'Big Deal' here??

You can't sue the car manufacturer and you know they are being 'economical with the truth' - in many cases.

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Well

most of the people on these forums I suggest are tech savvy, so we all know that a guaranteed 20M link to the dslam is possible bearing in mind the laws of physics and technical considerations, but try explaining to a non technical person that despite having 20M connection, there is congestion, slow servers and a host of other issues which will slow down the perceived service.

I liken it to be able to whizz up the M4, but being subject to the restrictions on the M25, makes no difference if you are in a Porsche or a lorry, end result is the same.

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Anonymous Coward

@Aimee

And yet those same fucking suppliers still insist on selling their services ignoring those facts and offering completely impossible connection speeds.

Your point?

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Car fuel consumption

The difference is that there is a standard way of measure the fuel consumption which you advertise. The manufacturers try to minimise the consumption, within the rules, but they're all doing it, and so the precise results can still be a useful comparison.

I wonder if we'll ever see a "Top Gear" for Broadband internet.

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Please

dont swear, its ignorant.

The point, well trying explaining to a non technical person why their super duper 20M broadband is crawling, that was the purpose of the post, which you filed to comprehend.

Yes suppliers will gloss the product, happens all the time, where have you been.

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Anonymous Coward

How about

The useless buggers get off their arse and do something about the bastardisation of the term 'unlimited'? At least 'upto' is only being embellished if anything.

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Dentures required...

Ofcom has no teeth. Every time this crops up, there are words, there are ideas, but no deeds, the ISPs flog their snake oil, the consumer gets screwed.

Not expecting much from this, the ISPs are not going to want to say "Try our magnificent, marvellous, munificent 20MB broadband (normal speed 6MB)" - they'll find wriggle room, one way or another

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FAIL

'Upto' is perfectly fine

The 'Upto' moniker is perfectly fine as is. Surely it's obvious what it means.

Also it is unfair to include Virgin in this. They use a completely different technology which is NOT dependent on distance from the exchange, and any speed lower (i.e. 9.6Mbps as opposed to 10Mbps is simply down to overheads and the way the tech works). Therefore, you should get the same speed wherever you are, which is obviously not the case for ADSL. Them bashing ADSL is pathetic, and makes them sound like they are up their own arse.

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Virgin?

They're immune to line-length concerns, but if there's too much contention in the backhaul network people will see throughput speeds lower than their headline connection rate. So I think the same applies - it's misleading to say "upto 20M" if your 20M last mile can only deliver 10M of throughput or lower.

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Not only..but also

VM also have to deal with contention in the local loop - something xDSL doesn't suffer from. At least with xDSL your connection to the exchange isn't affected by what the neighbours do(*). DOCSIS3.0 has helped a lot here but last I heard upload capacity was still an issue for cable modems and even downstream capacity isn't infinite unless VM are prepared to split cables and install more cabinets.

(*)Aside from a slight risk of cross-talk. FTTC has us sharing a single fibre from the cab to the exchange but BT claim to guarantee no contention on that.

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Boffin

Beeblebub

The BBC website has illustrated this story with a picture on a white USB lead....................

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Sounds fine to me..

Quite a number of routers feature a USB connection - in some cases it's far less hassle than other networking options.

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