Advertised speeds rarely reflect broadband capabilities under realistic conditions. As a result, consumers are often disappointed by their internet service. Research by regulatory agency Ofcom at the start of 2010 revealed that nearly three-fourths of all broadband customers were not informed that their actual day to day broadband speed would be less than what was advertised.
Nevertheless, this does not imply that consumers are completely in the dark when shopping for providers. If prodded, all broadband providers should provide customers with an estimate of typical speeds during normal and peak hours.
Ofcom itself has instituted a voluntary code of conduct to promote transparency in broadband advertising. This code, introduced in 2008, covers over 95% of home broadband users, providing them with statistical data on actual broadband speeds and averages.
While this has dramatically improved the situation, Ofcom officials state there is still a lot of ignorance pertaining to broadband speeds, which most internet service providers have done little to rectify. In fact, the regulator has threatened a number of ISPs with stricter regulatory measures, forcing them to keep customers better informed about how broadband speeds may fluctuate.
Checking Your Broadband Speed
Both prospective and existing customers can inquire an ISP for a speed estimate. For a comparison, customers can make use of an online speed tester to check their actual speeds. Before running a speed test, be sure that all bandwidth consuming applications, particularly peer to peer file sharing software such as BBC iPlayer are closed. Also be sure to run the test at different times of the day in order to avoid outlying statistics caused by unusual congestion.
If your actual broadband speeds are slower than your ISP’s estimate, contact your provider and ask them to help you troubleshoot. Often times slow speeds are caused by older hardware, and checking to see if your modem or router is compatible with the ISP’s current infrastructure may be the first step to bringing your speeds up to par.
For ADSL subscribers, an atavistic bell wire can slow down speeds by conducting electrical interference. Purchasing and installing an iPlate to remove the bell wire has been proven to significantly enhance speeds. Speeds may also be mitigated by neighbours piggybacking on your wireless. Be sure to use the latest encryption methods and keep a secure password on your router. Also check to see if your browser is the latest version, as older browsers may not be optimised for surfing the internet.
Taking Legal Measures
If all practical measures have failed to speed up your broadband connection, it may be time to take legal action. Document all previous interaction with the company, including the time and date of your phone calls. File a formal, written complaint, making a copy of it before you post it. Include in the letter a paragraph which demands a response from the company within 30 days.
If the company fails to respond in a satisfactory manner, you may try contacting a regulatory agency. The telecoms ombudsman, Otelo, resolves many disputes between ISPs and their customers free of charge. Under the Supply of Goods and Services Act, consumers also have the option of taking a provider to small claims court. You may be entitled to a refund for charges made while the internet was down, as well as for fees levied for switching providers.
However, legally speaking, most advertisers state that they offer broadband ‘up to’ a certain speed. While this may be deliberately misleading, it is technically correct, which may allow companies to avoid any legal reprisal. Unfortunately, it is therefore incumbent on the consumer to be wary when purchasing a particular plan that actual speeds will hinge on a variety of external factors.
Switching Internet Service Providers
Thankfully, customers unsatisfied with their internet service provider do have the option of switching. The UK government has helped facilitate this transition by having ISPs keep Migration Authorisation Codes (MAC), a 17 to 19 digit code that can be used to quickly transfer from one ISP to another. Just request the code from your existing ISP and give it to your new provider.
Another option to increase your speeds is to upgrade from an ADSL line to a fibre optic cable network. Virgin Media currently offers 50Mb and 100Mb broadband plans that cover over half of the UK. BT Broadband also offers cable plans of up to 40Mb. Even ADSL providers like O2 and Be may have 20Mb or 24Mb plans in your area. Although actual speeds may be lower than advertised, they will still send data at a pace that is far more palatable than your current connection.