Ofcom has been beating the unfair broadband advertising drum, and rightly so.
It’s a view held by many that “up to” advertising speeds are a shady practice and give a misleading impression to a customer signing up for a broadband line (particularly in the case of ADSL).
Ofcom’s latest figures for November to December of 2010 indicate that the average UK broadband speed was 6.2Mbps, up considerably from 5.2Mbps in May.
However, the average advertised headline broadband speed was 13.8Mbps, so the reality of the 6.2Mbps figure is that it isn’t even half of the advertised speed average.
As ever, it’s ADSL services which are the culprit here, with fibre providing speeds much closer to the advertised levels. Current generation ADSL loses a lot of bandwidth depending on distance from the exchange and phone line quality.
Ofcom found that only 3% of ADSL customers on up to 20Mbps or 24Mbps packages actually achieved speeds of 16Mbps plus. The majority, 70%, experienced speeds of 8Mbps or less.
This research was conducted as part of the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee for Advertising Practice’s consultation on broadband speeds. These are the organisations responsible for crafting advertising codes in the UK, who are looking to reform broadband advertising.
Ofcom’s recommendation is to switch to a “Typical Speeds Range” or TSR, a figure based on a realistic range of actual speeds achieved to give consumers a clearer idea of what to expect from their line.
The organisation says that the TSR should represent “the range of speeds actually achieved by at least half of customers (around the median).”
Ofcom isn’t necessarily putting “up to” speeds off the menu entirely, as it goes on to recommend that the TSR should have “at least equal prominence to any maximum ‘up to’ speed.”
Although it does note that the maximum speed must be achievable in practice by a “material number” of subscribers, so it can’t be the theoretical maximum which is currently employed.
Ofcom notes that the TSR for an up to 8Mbps ADSL line is 2 to 5Mbps. For 20/24Mbps ADSL, it’s 3 to 9Mbps, in other words, not that much of an improvement for the majority.
Up to 10Mbps Cable, however, actually gets a TSR of 10Mbps. With 20Mbps, that drops slightly to 18 to 19Mbps, and with 50Mbps cable, Ofcom is stating a figure of 47 to 49Mbps.
As a final note, Ofcom is also recommending that the term “unlimited” should only be allowed in broadband advertising when a service has no caps imposed via a fair use policy.