Legislators need to get a grip on ISP speed

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Legislators need to get a grip on ISP speed

Jennifer Scott

It brings me no joy to say today’s results from The Guardian’s broadband survey were of little surprise.

Yet again, it has been proved ISPs are advertising one thing and providing another, with a gap of 42% between their advertised broadband speeds and the actual connections they are delivering to their customers.

If you are a Sky customer, for example, the company will tell you it provides up to 12Mbps, but the average speed achieved by their users comes in at just 4.8Mbps, according to the survey. As if Sky didn't have enough to worry about at the moment…

The UK already looks weak on the worldwide league tables. Akamai’s recent state of the internet report showed us ranking 16th when it came to average speeds in Europe alone. Some comfort could be taken from the fact 91% of the country can now access 2Mbps – what Ofcom deems as real broadband – but when not one of our cities made it into the global 100, it is a sad state of affairs for such a developed nation.

With the new research though, we are shown we don’t just the lack the wonderful speeds enjoyed by the likes of Sweden or South Korea, but we are now being lied to about what is even possible on this island of ours.

So how can the ISPs like Sky, Virgin Media, TalkTalk and even BT, get away with these statements, promising masses of megabits more than they can muster?            

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) gave out new guidance on advertising broadband last year, which the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) brought into force in April 2012. It states that ISPs can only advertise “up to” speeds if 10% or more of its customers can access the maximum connection.

The CAP told me today if the speed users receive is not “uniformly close to the stated headline” then ISPs must include extra small print, for example “Up to 20Mbps; most users typically achieve speeds of 6-13Mbps,” but this is still letting companies get away with advertising speeds the vast majority of their users could never hope to achieve.

Imagine if only 10% of visitors to a theme park got to ride on the main attraction? Or only 10 out of 100 people at a gig got to see the headline act? I have a feeling the other 90 might demand their money back.

It amazes me that, despite the ruling being so recent by the ASA, it has failed to truly protect users from the games ISPs play with their advertising.

One of my colleagues suggested minimum speeds should be advertised as well to give more transparency to the full remit on offer. A great idea, in my opinion, but one which will undoubtedly get ISPs in a spin about how honest they will have to be to the British public.

ISPs will say their broadband is the best in the world and the ASA will continually have to reprimand them when it proves not to be true – look at the on-going saga with Virgin Media and BT. But, we can all see through a company claiming they are the best. It is when they add statistics into the mix, which we believe we can trust thanks to the protection the likes of Ofcom and the ASA are supposed to provide, that the line between dreams and reality begin to blur.

Until ISPs are told they cannot advertise speeds unless the vast majority of their customers can access them, the ads will be misleading.

If the ASA is to stick by its mantra to “take seriously any concerns it receives on this issue” and “assess complaints against the rules on misleadingess and the new guidance,” then perhaps it can come up with better legislation to protect users from the bragging of ISPs that depend on a very small percentage to make very large statements.


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