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Which? research shows advertised UK broadband speeds 41 per cent slower following new rules

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According to new research from UK consumer association, Which? the majority of British broadband providers have had to cut the speeds they advertise, following recent changes to advertising rules.

An analysis of the largest providers conducted by the association found that, since new rules were introduced by the Committees of Advertising Practice in May, 11 major suppliers have had to cut the advertised speed of some of their deals, with the cheapest deals dropping by an average of 41 per cent.

Previously, suppliers were able to advertise broadband deals which claimed ‘up-to’ speeds that only one in 10 customers would reach, and before the new rules came into effect, Which? found evidence that British households were paying for broadband services that were on average 51% slower than advertised. The new rules, policed by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), mean that at least half of providers’ customers must now be able to get an advertised average speed, even during peak times (8-10pm).

The Which? research highlights cases from BT, EE, John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Sky, Zen Internet, Post Office, SSE, TalkTalk and Utility Warehouse, which previously advertised their standard (ADSL) broadband deals as ‘up to 17Mb/s’. The new advertised speed is now more than a third lower at 10Mb/s or 11Mb/s. The association found that, across all the deals on offer from the 12 biggest providers, the advertised speeds from ‘up to 17Mb/s’ to ‘up to 100 Mb/s’ had decreased by an average 15 per cent. Other companies named in the research include TalkTalk, which is said to have dropped advertising speed claims from many of its deals; and Vodafone, to have changed the name of some of its deals. Virgin Media was also mentioned for its advertised speeds increasing since the change.

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

Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms analyst at broadband comparison site, is not so sure if the matter is now clearer for consumers. He said: ‘Though the new average number is a closer representation to the speed a person is likely to get, it hasn't solved the key issue. It hasn't made it any clearer what those numbers mean nor how they apply to the average household. 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.’ recently revealed its own study, alongside research group M-Lab, which revealed that the UK has fallen to 35th place in the global broadband speed delivery rankings, compared with 31st place in 2017 (see UK broadband speeds fall lower down global league table as infrastructure recommendations published).

Also responding to the Which? research, Greg Mesch, CEO at CityFibre – which recently gained permission to proceed with a judicial review of the ASA decision on how the term ‘fibre’ is used in broadband advertising – said: ‘While it is great that this change to the rules has pushed industry to bring its speed claims closer to the truth, it only goes to show why it is so important that the ASA finishes the job it started here. 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.’

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