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Moves to force ISPs to be more transparent over broadband speeds got a boost today from the Gadget Show.

The Channel 5 show has long lobbied for the caveat ‘up to’ to be banned from UK providers’ ads. But this week it re-launched its campaign in the wake of Ofcom’s report into actual broadband speeds across this sceptred isle.

gadget show

According to the telecommunications watchdog’s findings, customers on DSL packages touted as offering a download speed of up to 8Mb or up to 10Mb can in reality only expect an average connection of 3.3Mb.

Those who’ve signed up for DSL products that promised a speed of between 20Mb and 24Mb are actually getting an average of 6.5Mb.

Not surprisingly, consumers with next-gen services, which aren’t as affected by distance from the exchange as DSL networks, get a lot closer to what they’re paying for. Folk with up to 10Mb fibre optic and 20Mb receive average connection speeds of 8.7Mb and 15.7Mb respectively.

The Gadget Show’s campaign almost certainly has moral rectitude on its side as well as the interests of consumers.

But, although the program’s reach means it’s got power to mobilise the troops in a way that print campaigns would struggle to achieve, whether they’ll affect any change by fighting the good fight is another matter.

Last year, the donnish Jon Bentley and friends have attempted have campaigned for the unlimited clause to be removed from broadband ads’ claims over download allowances. And yet, despite a wave of populist support, that’s still present and correct.

Mitigating against real change in broadband is that Ofcom seems something of a toothless tiger. It’s introduction of a mandatory code to encourage more openness has had mixed results.

ofcom logo large

Under the terms of Ofcom’s code, each ISP is duty bound to inform customers what kind of connection speed they can realistically get at the point of sale. But in practice that simply isn’t happening.

In the interests of research, I telephoned a number of ISPs and approached them via those guys and gals that pop up to help you when you visit their sites. I then directly asked the support staff if there would be a disparity between the connection speeds.

Shamefully, on two occasions I was informed – somewhat testily in one instance, I might add - that the speed I’d get would be exactly the one advertised. Now, while it’s possible that the operative was simply ill-informed, it felt to me that I was being deliberately lied to.

What’s more, I’m sure I’m not alone in being sold down the river. So what’s needed to clean things up? Well, first up the code of conduct needs to be supported by censure for those who fall foul of it.

The voluntary approach that Ofcom has taken hasn’t been entirely without success. But the fact is that until there’s a threat of real sanctions for miscreants, the problems with transparency will remain in perpetuity.

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