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Ofcom demands ISPs close 'upto' gap

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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 than half" and in fact delivering at 6.2Mbit/s on average to UK households.

That's a 45 per cent shortfall on many of the 'up to' claims made by ISPs flogging their broadband services to Blighty customers.

Ofcom, which collected the figures from volunteer homes across the country, is in the process of submitting its response to the current Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) and for Advertising Practice (BCAP) consultation on broadband speeds claimed in British ads.

The regulator has been pushing for ISPs to only advertise speeds based on a Typical Speeds Range (TSR), to make it easier for customers to understand the figures dished out by broadband providers.

Ofcom is slapping together a TSR guideline to detail what the TSR might be for each tech used to service fixed-line broadband.

Among other things it wants to see "any reference to broadband speed in advertising (for example, words such as 'fast', 'super-fast' or 'lightning') must be accompanied by a TSR, which should have at least equal prominence to these words."

Copper-based ADSL services offered by the likes of O2 and Sky recorded "much lower than advertised speeds", said Ofcom.

"Very few ADSL broadband customers achieved average actual download speeds close to advertised ‘up to’ speeds. Just three per cent of customers on ‘up to’ 20 or 24Mbit/s DSL services received average download speeds of over 16Mbit/s, while 69 per cent received average download speeds of 8Mbit/s or less."

BT's Infinity service, which according to Ofcom is currently available to 15 per cent of the UK population, did a better job than ADSL services. It gave average download speeds of 31.1Mbit/s, or 22 per cent less than the company's advertising claimed.

Virgin Media, whose cable service reaches 48 per cent of the UK households currently, was closer to its advertised 'up to' speeds than ADSL services, said Ofcom.

It fell short by between 10 and four per cent of the speeds claimed in its ads. However, VM, unlike its rivals, has recently been calling on the broadband industry to give up pushing 'up to' ads.

Virgin Media's fastest sold broadband 50Mbit/s package delivered an average download speed of around 46Mbit/s.

Ofcom will be bringing in a new code of practice in July this year, which it hopes ISPs will respond positively to.

“It is encouraging that new technologies are being rolled out across the UK and faster speeds are being achieved," said Ofcom boss Ed Richards. "However, 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."

But getting companies to sign up to such a code remains a challenge for Ofcom.

Virgin Media's executive director of broadband Jon James used the figures to call on his firm's rivals to respond to the code.

"Ofcom's latest report is yet another damning indictment that consumers continue to be treated like mugs and misled by ISPs that simply cannot deliver on their advertised speed claims," he said.

“The ASA has already highlighted the critical need for change and today's report provides another clear mandate to stop advertising ‘up to’ speeds that nobody can actually receive."

James said VM supported Ofcom's desire to get ISPs to publish their typical read world speeds. ®

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