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Advertised broadband speeds dropping across UK

Since new advertising standards around broadband were introduced in May 2018, most providers have cut the speeds they advertise, or stopped making speed claims altogether

BT, EE, John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, the Post Office, Sky, TalkTalk, Utility Warehouse and Zen Internet are among the major internet service providers (ISPs) to have drastically cut the broadband speeds they claim to offer since the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) Committees of Advertising Practice changed the rules for how broadband is sold in May 2018.

According to new research from consumer advocacy organisation Which?, all the above-named suppliers had previously advertised their basic asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) packages as “up to 17Mbps”, but across the board, the advertised speed since May has been between 10Mbps and 11Mbps – up to 41% lower.

Until May, ISPs were permitted to make “up-to” speed claims that only 10% of customers could ever reach. The new rules, designed to bring more clarity to a market that many consumers find very confusing, change this by mandating that an advertised speed must be available to 50% of customers at peak times (between 8pm and 10pm).

“Customers will now have a much clearer idea of the speeds that can be achieved when they are shopping around for broadband,” said Which? managing director of home services, Alex Neill.

“For those still struggling to get a reasonable speed or connection, the government must press ahead with its crucial plans to deliver the service that broadband customers need, without it costing them the earth.”

The Which? research found that across all deals on offer from the UK’s 12 largest ISPs, advertised speeds had decreased by an average of 15%, even on ultrafast (over 100Mbps) services.

It observed that TalkTalk has completely dropped any speed claims from most of its deals, while Vodafone has got around the rule change by renaming a number of packages that did not live up to its boasts – Fibre 38 and Fibre 75 have now become Superfast 1 and Superfast 2. Only one provider has increased the speeds it advertises since the change – Virgin Media.

Telecoms analyst Dan Howdle, of Cable.co.uk, said that although the new averages (or lack of) were a closer representation to the speeds people were likely to get, prior to the changes, Which? had claimed that households were paying for services that were, on average, 51% slower than advertised – the key issue had not been solved.

“It hasn't made it any clearer what those numbers mean or how they apply to the average household,” he said. “It has, in effect, replaced one confusing number with another. I do not believe the new number offers anyone a clearer idea of what they are going to get. A more accurate one, perhaps, but clearer? No.”

Greg Mesch, CEO of full-fibre supplier CityFibre, said it was positive that the rule changes had pushed ISPs to start telling the truth, but said the ASA should go further still.

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CityFibre is currently leading its own campaign against misleading broadband advertising on the basis that the word “fibre” can currently be used to describe multiple types of product with vastly different average speeds.

Across the country, people are still paying for services they can’t yet receive while being stuck on prehistoric copper-based infrastructure,” said Mesch. “The ASA must take its head out of the sand and change these antiquated rules immediately, so that as full-fibre becomes widespread, customers are able to make a genuine choice.”

Earlier this week, CityFibre engineers unearthed a prehistoric “coppersaurus” made of antiquated copper phone lines under the streets of Milton Keynes, as it launched a consumer-facing campaign to urge the ASA to consider further changes to the rules.

It is thought that the dinosaur, which has not yet been positively identified by palaeontologists or telecoms engineers as a new species, dates as far back as the 1960s, when Milton Keynes was first developed as a new town.

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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