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Ofcom: UK broadband speeds lower than promised

On average, the maximum speeds achievable by UK consumer broadband connections are just half of those advertised by ISPs, and actual speeds delivered are even lower
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

Ofcom has published the initial findings of its research into the real speeds UK consumers are getting from their broadband connections.

According to a preliminary version of the telecommunications regulator's UK Broadband Speeds 2008 report, published on Thursday, the average downlink speed is 3.6Mbps. That represents around half the average speed of 7.2Mbps promised by ISPs. Even the average maximum line speed, which is the speed a broadband connection could achieve in ideal conditions, is just 4.3Mbps.

Ofcom intends to use the final results of the study, due for publication in the spring, as the basis for policy adjustments. That final version of the report will provide a further breakdown of results, including an comparison of performance by provider.

In December, the regulator convinced a majority of UK ISPs to sign up to a voluntary code of practice that commits them to being honest about the real speeds their customers 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," Ofcom's chief executive, Ed Richards, said in a statement on Thursday.

"We have already seen the first steps towards next-generation super-fast broadband in the UK, and we expect further developments this year. Ofcom will publish the next steps for the regulatory framework early this year."

The initial findings of Ofcom's report indicate that people promised a maximum speed of 8Mbps are getting, on average, only 3.6Mbps. One in five of them are seeing an average speed of less than 2Mbps.

Over 30 days in October and November 2008, Ofcom ran around 7,000 tests through monitoring devices that were connected to routers in 1,500 homes. That resulted in more than 10 million separate tests of broadband services, the regulator said.

According to Ofcom, 93 percent of people surveyed were happy with their overall web-browsing experience, but that figure dropped to 67 percent when it came to the use of more bandwidth-intensive applications such as internet TV.

Dissatisfaction with broadband quality was higher among rural users (14 percent) than urban users (eight percent). The study also found that the slowest web-surfing time is between 5pm and 6pm on Sundays, when web-usage levels are at their highest.

James Parker, the broadband manager at moneysupermarket.com, said in a statement on Thursday that Ofcom's findings showed "how little consumers get for their money".

"Although prices for broadband are falling rapidly, the speed [at] which providers are moving to help consumers get a better deal is slowing," Parker said. "The voluntary code may mean customers are advised of what speed they get before purchasing a new deal, but it does nothing to help consumers get the actual speed they pay for."

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