The average speed of an 8Mbps broadband connection is just 2.7Mbps, according to a survey released on Thursday by Which?, the consumer rights group.
Which? surveyed 300 people who had signed up to broadband services advertised as being "up to" 8Mbps in download speeds. Apart from calculating the average speed, it said that the slowest download speed it found was a paltry 90Kbps.
There are several factors that affect ADSL speeds. The crucial two are contention — the number of people using the same connection to the exchange — and distance from the exchange. It is, therefore, very rare for a user to attain the advertised speeds, but Which? has questioned the way in which those speeds are advertised, pointing out that the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) guidelines accept the words "up to" only when most customers will get close to those speeds.
"It's shocking that internet service providers can advertise ever-increasing speeds that seem to bear little resemblance to what most people can achieve in reality," said Which? editor Malcolm Coles. "If it's unlikely you'll reach the advertised speed, it should be made clear up front, so that you know with some certainty what you're buying."
Coles said that customers who find themselves getting speeds far below those advertised should report their provider to Ofcom.
The telecoms regulator said it was aware of the problem. "We have been working very closely with the ASA on labelling and advertising of these services," said a spokesperson. Pointing out that the ASA has in the past rebuked operators such as Wanadoo (now Orange) and Bulldog (now part of Tiscali) over their 8Mbps claims — and Be Broadband over its 24Mbps claims — the spokesperson said that the ASA had "taken a very proactive role" and claimed that Ofcom was now "looking at how the rest of the issue can be approached in an effective way".
However, despite the industry-wide nature of the problem, the ASA conceded that the watchdog could only investigate such claims on the basis of each individual advertisement. "Our remit only extends to advertising content and we can only go so far as getting an advertiser to change their ad," a spokesperson said.
Trading Standards has also expressed an interest in the report, a Which? spokesperson told ZDNet.co.uk. However, it seems likely that they will "take a back seat for the moment" while Ofcom decides what measures it will take.
Another recent survey, by the website Moneysupermarket.com, suggested that only one in five consumers get the broadband speed they signed up for, yet only 30 percent of those surveyed felt they had been misled by their providers' advertising.