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Which? have once again called for broadband speed guarantees for customers, demonstrating their continued lack of understanding of the complexity of this issue and the multi-tier structure of the broadband delivery market – including Openreach’s critical role in fault resolution.

Back in March, they called on all ISPs to provide a ‘broadband speed guarantee’ which would provide customers with written speed ‘estimates’ at the start of the contract; allow customers to exit contracts without penalty if that speed isn’t achieved (so, actually they want a ‘guarantee’ not an ‘estimate’); fix loss of connection as quickly as possible; refund people for loss of service; and remove the jargon and ‘take responsibility’ for fixing problems. All in all, they wanted a basic SLA for broadband providing guarantees and compensation.

Their latest survey of over 2000 UK adults reportedly found that only 5% of people agreed that broadband speed is advertised in the clearest way and 88% agreed that speed was the second most important factor when choosing a broadband deal (after price). This has led Which? to re-issue their calls for a ‘broadband speed guarantee’ although in fairness, this time they appear to have dropped the request for early contract exit options where the speed provided isn’t achieved.

It’s a nice idea but unfortunately, it’s just not that simple!

We find it somewhat disturbing that Which? still appears to lack an understanding of the complexity of the UK broadband delivery market and in particular the fact that ‘issues’ often occur on BT Wholesale’s core network which is managed and maintained (and therefore fixed) by Openreach – not the actual ISP! The ISP has NO access to this network and very little influence to ‘speed up’ fault fixing or ‘take responsibility’ for the fault (excluding Virgin Media and altnets of course). We would welcome any measures to improve this process but that’s a job for Ofcom and Openreach – not the ISPs.

Secondly, (most) ISPs already provide speed ‘estimates’ at the point of order – before the order is finalised. It is very difficult to provide a ‘guaranteed’ speed as so many factors can affect the actual speed received including the customer’s choice of hardware, internal wiring of the property, electrical interference from other devices – even Christmas lights have been known to cause problems! The list is extensive and therefore an estimated speed that the physical line is able to support is given as this is more accurate.

Tougher ASA guidelines

The ASA already requires ISPs to advertise headline speeds based on the actual speeds achieved by at least 10% of their customer base, but this isn’t good enough for Which? either. They want the ASA to toughen up its rules, requesting:

  • Advertised speeds are achieved by the majority of customers (51% +)
  • Any speed claims are quantified
  • Provide details of how many customers can actually achieve the advertised speed

Once again, it’s simply not that easy and could leave smaller ISPs at a significant disadvantage when competing against the larger ISPs with much larger customer databases on which to base their statistics – especially if the small ISP caters for a particularly rural target market, for example.

We criticised the original ASA guidelines for unnecessary complexity and potential favouring of large, national operators – this would make that situation even worse!

We agree that all ISP websites should have accurate and justified headline speed claims but toughening advertising guidelines and forcing ISPs to provide inaccurate guarantees is not the best approach. If anything, such actions would lead to ISPs being more ‘choosy’ about the customers they take on (avoiding lower speed customers as they may affect their statistics) and could cause price hikes to cover potential ‘guarantee compensations’.

Education is key!

Surely it would be more beneficial to educate customers to the fact that it is just an ‘estimate’ and that a guarantee would not be accurate (due to the factors we discussed earlier) and is therefore not provided.

By its very nature broadband is a contended service and its performance can fluctuate depending on how many simultaneous users there are, quality and length of the line, etc. If guaranteed speed is critical to a customer then perhaps they need to consider other types of connectivity such Ethernet – although these are significantly more expensive and therefore usually only used by business customers.

Have your say!

What do you think? Do you think ISPs should provide guarantees for broadband services? Do you think speeds can and should be guaranteed? Or do you think the contended nature of broadband and the underlying (predominantly) copper infrastructure poses too many variable? How do you advise your customers of potential speeds? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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5 Responses to “Broadband Speed Guarantees – Oh come on Which? get real!”

  1. As you have rightly stated the issue, in my view and from extensive experience dealing with broadband “issues”, sits firmly on the shoulders of Openreach, and their apparent lack of care and responsibility when dealing with problems on behalf of ISPs (even BT!). The impression I get is that Openreach behaves very much like a faceless corporation which relies solely on automated systems to log jobs and have contact with anybody, so much so that when I have had business customers unable to operate in the past I have been told that “we just have to wait for the system to update”. Have they not realised that in todays world internet connectivity is seen by many as a “utility”, something almost as important as gas and electricity?

  2. When ordering all customers should be given an estimate of speed which they must acknowledge and accept before processing the order.

  3. I have been using Entanet to sell broadband to many different location for years, i have always tried to use the best router possible in a village “miles away from the exchange” most customers dont get, that a good router can make a difference, how do “Which” calculate for that. How do “Which” calculate for poor outdated BT copper/aluminium lines that openreach just will not replace, Openreach have become a dinosaur operating how they want with no come back, ignorant and arrogant to say the least. Engineers who are untrained and who cannot be bothered. I think “Which” should take a look at the core of the problem BT WHOLESALE AND OPENREACH NEEDS BREAKING UP INTO COMPETITION, we are just going round in circles.
    Customers will never understand contention until you have 30 minutes to chat to them about it. Again “Which” how do you explain that a member of the family is using p2p using all your home bandwidth, broadband isnt just an on off switch there are too many factors to list, maybe it was just a reporter with nothing else more useful they could investigate.

  4. The idea sounds good but how would speed be measured? Synch speed or throughput?
    One could imagine the big players could offer a high synch speed but then a low throughput to maximise their margins
    It would be useful if Which could also report on service performance by the big ISPs, time to answer calls, fix times etc

  5. I have just been telling customers not to become TOO reliant on the Internet. It may be wonderful in Korea but our infrastructure is basically now outdated and virtually prehistoric in comparison to what is available in other countries. I totally agree with you that the complexities, NOT of the Internet, but of the infrastructure is far beyond the control of any ISP. I can get anywhere between 6MB/S and 45 MB/S, depends what the guy next door is doing at the time, so a speed guarantee is totally impossible. It’s why I have steered completely away from Office 365, it’s just too reliant on so many other people for so much of its operation.

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