ISPs deny broadband speed is an issue as Welsh reject fast connections

Internet service providers are fighting back against Ofcom's report slamming broadband speeds, claiming that only a fraction of customers actually need the miraculous top speeds they offer.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Expertise Films | TV | Movies | Television | Technology
Richard Trenholm
3 min read

Internet service providers are fighting back against Ofcom's report slamming broadband speeds. Ofcom reported last week that the average speed of your broadband is probably around half what you were promised.

But ISPs are claiming that only a fraction of customers actually need the miraculous top speeds they offer, with Welsh users proving unfussed about the high speeds they could receive. So why do ISPs bother, boyo?

The fastest broadband connection available -- in theory -- is the Virgin Media 100Mbps service. Virgin also recently increased the theoretical maximum speed of its XL broadband service to 30Mbps. But Ofcom's report showed the average speed in the UK is 6.2Mbps. 

ISPs have come out fighting, attempting to move the debate away from maximum speeds. Sky today told Crave that customer service, connection reliability and speed consistency were the truly important things when it comes to broadband. Sky suggests that advertising should forget about mythical maximum speeds, and instead be more open about some of the secret limits imposed on your Web use.

Fair's fair

ISPs often impose a fair-use policy and traffic management on your Internet use. A FUP sets a limit to your browsing, above which you are charged or your connection slowed. From April, selected BT Infinity and BT Total customers will no longer face download or upload speed restrictions when they go over their 300GB fair-usage limit, although those on the Option 1 and 2 plans will still pay when they hit 300GB. Limiting your speed is also known as traffic throttling.

But the end of the fair-use policy for customers on the more expensive contracts comes at a price: BT will restrict access to specific applications and protocols. That's called traffic management, or traffic shaping. We've asked BT for clarification on what this move actually means for you, and we'll keep you posted.

How fast is fast enough?

BT reckons only 0.5 per cent of its users -- around 28,000 people -- hit the 300GB mark. BT has also revealed that residents of Cardiff aren't bothered about high-speed broadband: adoption of fibre broadband in the Welsh capital is slow, despite the city offering speeds more than five times the UK average.

Comparison site Broadbandgenie recently told Crave that "a speed of 1-2Mbps will actually be more than adequate for many broadband customers". With all this in mind, should broadband providers reel in the maximum speed and focus their attention on different aspects of their service?

We think so. We're certainly glad that the current debate is not only exposing maximum speeds for the advertising flimflam they are, but also focusing attention on traffic management, fair-use policies and other chicanery.

What do you look for in a broadband provider? Speed, price or service? What ISP do you use, and are you aware of its traffic management or fair-use policies? Bear in mind that as tech-savvy -- and may we say, rather good looking -- readers of this 'ere technology site, your Internet use is probably higher than average. If your Internet connection is up to it, leave us a comment below or have your say on our Facebook wall.