Broken promises on broadband speed adverts

New Which? research for our ‘Give Us Broadband Speed Guaranteed’ campaign has found a staggering 15.4 million households aren’t getting the promised headline speeds on their broadband packages.

Despite nine in 10 people telling us they consider speed an important factor when choosing a provider, we found 74% of households (equivalent to 15.4 million homes) with fixed broadband connections who were paying for packages with advertised speeds they never got.

Average speeds fared even worse. We found just 17% of homes received an average speed that matched the advertised level and even fewer, 15%, managed this during the peak evening period.

Our new analysis also reveals that broadband users in the countryside are much more poorly served than people in urban areas. While three in 10 (31%) households in towns and cities were able to receive a maximum speed that matches the one advertised, incredibly 98% of rural homes didn’t typically get the advertised speed.

Advertising guidelines say only 10% of all customers need to achieve the maximum advertised speed but even so we found three packages that couldn’t even meet that. Only 4% of customers on TalkTalk’s 17Mbps package, and just 1% of people on BT and Plusnet’s 76Mbps deals, were getting the top advertised speeds.

While we welcome the changes that Ofcom announced last week to make it easier for people to switch their broadband provider if they’re not getting the speed they were advertised on their contract, we want the rules to change so providers are only allowed to advertise speeds that most of their customers can receive.

Up until now, the advertising watchdogs have been reluctant to take action, so we’re calling on Ofcom to work with them and create an action plan by the end of the year to improve the way broadband speeds are advertised.

Which? executive director Richard Lloyd, said:

“It’s not good enough that millions of homes are so poorly served by their broadband provider with speeds that just don’t live up to what was advertised. Broadband is an essential part of life these days so people shouldn’t be persuaded to buy a package which is never going to live up to expectations.

“We’ve raised our concerns with the advertising authorities, but we now want Ofcom to ensure consumers get the speeds promised by providers.”

Notes to editors:

1. The report on our broadband speed research can be found here.

2. We have conducted our own analysis of the data behind Ofcom’s UK fixed-line broadband performance report. The data for this report was gathered from a user panel of 1,992 UK residential broadband customers in November 2014.

Due to insufficient sample sizes within Ofcom’s data, we were unable to analyse all broadband packages available on the market. We have analysed all packages included in Ofcom’s report.

3. Further details about our campaign can be found at: www.which.co.uk/broadbandspeed.

4. For our consumer rights advice on what to do if you’re not getting the broadband speed you were promised, click here: http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/problem/im-not-getting-the-broadband-speed-i-was-promised-what-can-i-do

5. As part of our campaign we want Ofcom to work with the Advertising Standards Authority, Committee of Advertising Practice and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice to create an action plan to improve the way broadband speeds are advertised, by the end of 2015. This should require:

  • Broadband providers to only advertise speeds that are available to the majority of their customers.
  • Broadband providers to be upfront about how many people can actually get the speed advertised.
  • Ofcom should publish, at least annually, data for the main broadband providers and package, where possible, showing what proportion of consumers receives the advertised speed, as well as the average speed consumers receive compared with the advertised speed.

6. Consumers told us they consider speed to be the second most important factor influencing their choice of broadband deal (88%) – beaten only by price at 94%, with nine in ten (88%) believing that speed should be shown in adverts. Populus, on behalf of Which? interviewed 2,339 UK adults online, between 17th and 18th September 2014. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK adult population. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.

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