Of course BT's broadband speed checker doesn't work - otherwise it would be honest

James Temperton
7 May 2014
What broadband speed can I get?

BT has been told off for providing inaccurate broadband speed estimates. It is time for ISPs to stop misleading people

BT has been slammed for providing wonky estimates of broadband speeds and ordered to provide accurate numbers.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said that people would expect BT's 'availability checker' to provide download speeds that are "accurate for their address".

Like many ISPs, BT has a broadband speed checker on its site that uses makes a best guess of how fast a connection should be. The problem with the speed checker is simple – it makes a really bad guess.

It is impossible to know how fast your broadband could be until an ISP makes the connection in your home. There are all sorts of vagaries and pitfalls that can cause the speed to drop.

As BT said in its response to the ASA, the speeds it provides are an "estimate ranged from the 80th to 20th percentile for similar phone lines" – therefore 80 per cent of people should achieve the quoted speed. That leaves 20 per cent of people hating BT.

What BT should do is this: provide an absolute best speed for the specific address and then a downgraded speed for a line with faults. If they provided speeds in a range broadband companies would no longer be misleading customers and would give more accurate information. Not doing so is tantamount to lying.

In Ofcom's 2010 Voluntary Code of Practice the regulator called on broadband companies to provide "speed information […] achieved by the 20th and 80th percentiles of the ISP's similar customers".

Ofcom also said that ISPs should explain that any speeds quoted are only an estimate. Inevitably it is the BIG FLASHY NUMBERS and not the small print that catches most eyes, leaving many disappointed with the speeds they end up getting.

Yet the ASA's ruling is strange and shows a lack of understanding. The advertising watchdog derided BT for advertising wonky broadband speeds and has demanded that its availability checker provide "accurate information".

The ASA is right to slap BT on the wrist for misleading information but wrong to presume that BT can provide solid broadband speeds based on a futile guessing game.

Selling broadband packages based on speed estimates is bad business. It confuses people and gives ISPs a bad reputation. BT and all other ISPs need to do clearly explain the speeds people should expect and stop misleading potential customers.

When people see that they can get BT Infinity at between 23Mb and 33Mb they're going to be miffed if this isn't the case. Providing ranged and low-end estimates is essential if people are to stop feeling short-changed by ISPs.

When broadband companies more clearly explain what speeds people should expect, everyone will be better off.

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