ISPs sign up to new Ofcom code of practice for broadband advertising...
The gap between advertised and actual broadband speeds has widened for copper users, but is less severe for fibre broadbandPhoto: Shutterstock
The difference between the broadband speeds being received by consumers and those being advertised by ISPs is increasing, according to communications regulator Ofcom.
The average download speed being received by broadband users in May 2011 was 6.8Mbps, according to Ofcom, while the headline 'up to' speed advertised by ISPs was 15Mbps - an 8.2Mbps difference.
In November 2010, the difference was just 7.6Mbps, with an average received speed of 6.2Mbps and advertised speed of 13.8Mbps.
Ofcom now wants to end the practice of ISPs advertising only 'up to' speeds due to the potential to mislead customers about the actual service they will receive.
Ofcom has recommended that the 'up to' figure be joined in advertisements by a typical speed range to give consumers a more accurate idea of the broadband speed they're likely to receive. The regulator is also recommending that the theoretical maximum speed advertised by ISPs should reflect a speed that a proportion of consumers will actually achieve.
The regulator has revised its broadband advertising code of practice to include the use of the typical speed range, and to allow customers to leave their broadband provider without a penalty if the maximum speed they receive is significantly lower than the bottom of the estimated range and ISPs are unable to fix the issue.
BT Broadband, O2, Sky and Virgin Media have already signed up to the revised code of practice with others likely to follow in the next few months.
Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said he hopes publishing the research will encourage ISPs to invest in faster broadband networks resulting in genuinely higher speeds for users.
The difference between actual and advertised speeds is less of a problem with fibre-based broadband than copper-based ADSL broadband, according to Ofcom.
Customers on ADSL broadband packages of 'up to' 20Mbps and 24Mbps received an average speed of 6.6Mpbs. In contrast, Virgin Media's fibre-based 30Mbps service averaged speeds of 31Mbps and BT's Infinity service brought average speeds of 34Mbps compared to the advertised speed of 40Mbps.
Despite a continuing disparity between advertised and actual speeds, the average broadband speed in the UK has actually risen by 10 per cent over the past six months, from 6.2Mbps in November 2010 to 6.8Mbps in May this year.
Nearly half - 47 per cent - of consumers queried by Ofcom's research are on broadband packages with advertised speeds of more than 10Mbps, a significant increase compared to April 2009 when the figure was just eight per cent.
Ofcom also found that superfast broadband - fibre rather than copper ADSL broadband - is available to 57 per cent of UK homes that have access to superfast exchanges or Virgin Media cable.
Ofcom recently published an interactive map of the UK showing broadband data for each local authority to help inform which areas require more broadband investment.