Broadband speeds fail to hit advertised levels

Consumers are receiving broadband at speeds significantly slower than those marketed by their internet service providers, according to a report published yesterday.

One in five households that has been offered a download speed of "up to" 8 megabits per second is

getting less than 2mbps, said the report by Ofcom, the telecoms regulator.

The 8mbps broadband packages are the most popular - 64 per cent of households with internet access have them - but Ofcom found the average speed for these homes was 3.6mbps.

Some internet service providers have been rebuked for misleading advertising. The Advertising Standards Authority last month upheld a complaint against Tiscali, the UK's fifth largest broadband company. Some of Tiscali's press advertising about its "up to" 8mbps broadband packages was found not clearly to tell consumers that actual speeds could be much less.

Ofcom tried to sort out the problem in December by asking internet service providers to sign up to a code of conduct that stipulates that they should advise consumers of the likely download speeds they will get.

"We want to see all internet service providers meet the needs of their customers by clearly explaining what speeds they should expect and by ensuring that their networks meet consumers' increasing demand for higher speed broadband," said Ed Richards, Ofcom's chief executive.

The rising trend of watching video over the internet is pushing telecoms companies' broadband networks to their limits. It is therefore also causing some consumer angst about broadband connections. The longer the distance between homes and BT phone exchanges, the slower the broadband connection. Download speeds deteriorate according to the length of the copper phone wires.

Speeds also worsen if a lot of people use broadband networks. Ofcom found download speeds were worst between 5pm and 6pm on Sundays, when internet surfing peaked.

Ofcom's research, which focused on 1,600 homes in October and November, found the average download speed was 3.6mbps. Households with broadband packages offering speeds of 2mbps or less - 27 per cent of UK homes - were getting on average 1.6mbps. Those with packages offering more than 8mbps - 9 per cent of homes - had average speeds of 9.4mbps.

There was a relatively high level of consumer satisfaction. Overall, 83 per cent of consumers were satisfied with their broadband connections. However, dissatisfaction rose among consumers who watched video over the internet. Consumers needed download speeds of at least 1.5mbps to watch video, said Ofcom. For high-definition video, which is increasingly popular, speeds of 8mbps are necessary.

BT outlined plans last July for a new, £1.5bn broadband network capable of speeds of 40-100mbps, but they are conditional on a deal with regulators.

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