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Q&A: broadband not up to speed

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 02 August 2007

A new Which? survey shows broadband providers are failing to deliver the connection speeds they promise.

Big-name broadband providers are among those who are not delivering the connection speeds customers are paying for.

What is broadband speed?

It measures the time to transfer data to the subscriber's computer. Speed is measured in megabits.

Customers are typically offered speeds of 1mbps, 2mbps and 8mbps. It takes an average 20 seconds to download a 5MB music track at 2mpbs.

What are the factors affecting broadband speed.

Time of day: the Which? survey found that speeds are slower between 1pm and 11pm. More people tend to be online between 6pm and 11pm.

Number of people sharing exchange connection: the more people sharing the same connection to your exchange, the slower the speed. Some ISPs use a "contention ratio" to limit the number of people sharing a given exchange.

Distance from exchange: the shorter the distance between the user's computer and the phone exchange, the faster the broadband connection (this applies only to ADSL broadband)

Other factors: quality of modem and cables, number of people using the internet in a household at a given time, the capacity of a given website to handle a large number of hits.

What does today's Which? report say?

Only 30 per cent of those questioned in the Which? survey said they were very satisfied with their broadband internet service provider (ISP). Many of those questioned complained that they were getting nowhere near the promised broadband connection speed from their ISP.

Which? survey tests found a significant disparity between customers' promised broadband speeds and the speeds they actually enjoyed. Customers promised speeds of up to 8mbps enjoyed an average speed of 2.7mbps; those with a 2mbps contract enjoyed speeds of 1.3mbps; and those with 1mbps connections had 0.8mbps average speeds.

Why is there confusion?

The Which? report draws attention to the "up to" caveat that broadband providers attach to their connection speeds ("speeds up to 8Mbps"). It provides a get-out clause for providers who fail to meet promised speed levels.

Which are the recommended ISPs?

The top three broadband providers in terms of price, speed, ease of use, reliability and a range of other factors are Global, Waitrose and Zen Internet.

Big names such as AOL, BT and Virgin Media rate below average in the survey.

What else does the report recommend?

Which? says that even though many customers appreciate that the "up to" caveat is a guide rather than a guarantee of broadband speed, the huge gap revealed in its speed tests between advertised and actual speeds is unreasonable.

The report goes on to recommend that customers who receive speeds that are nowhere near those expected (for example, after a service upgrade), they should be able to opt out of fixed contracts and claim a refund. it also calls on Ofcom to investigate the question of advertised broadband speeds.

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