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He's no good for you! Ofcom wants to give folk powers to dump subpar broadband contracts

Silver badge
Meh

Marvellous idea - now if only there were a Universal Service Provision requirement on all the broadband providers as well.

When you have a choice of one path back to the exchange - because there are no competing wires, this might serve to keep the buggers a little more honest in their marketing spiel - but will in reality do feck all to make it go faster.

So while a good start - it gets a Could do Better from me

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Oh, there are competing wires outside my house.

But due to LLU BT can't use them and I can't get fibre to premises - only cabinet and O/H.

Equality?

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Wrong way round

Rather than letting customers exit a contract if the company don't perform, why not have a legal obligation that the company must (regardless of the cost) deliver that contracted minimum standard of service? And that minimum guarantee must be headlined with the same emphasis as the maximum speed. A guarantee is only as good as the policing, but there is already a Telecoms Ombudsman service, they'd be the ideal people to deal with this - it would be fairly straightforward to set up a remote speed testing service (and a check to prevent telcos from prioritising that service).

As these proposals stand, if a customer signs up for some ultra-fast broadband offer, and Openreach only have a damp string connection, exiting the contract doesn't help resolve the customer's problem because all other VDSL providers will be subject to the same problem. Nor will it deter the misrepresentation in advertising, since the penalty of losing an unhappy customer is negligible to the company. However, a complaint to the Ombudsman will be somewhere in the region of a £300-£500 case fee, charged to the company.

Obviously the broadband resellers would overnight become a lot more careful about the offers they make and the advertising they place, but that wouldn't be a bad thing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wrong way round

Wouldn't that just result in customers being declined service? People too far from a node on a distance-dependent service would be deemed just too much trouble to bother with. It would have the handy side effect of also increasing average speeds.

Beware of unintended consequence.

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Re: Wrong way round

I agree with you. I took BT to the Ombudsman due to the fact that they offered us 24Mb/s and guaranteed 15Mb/s, we actually get around 9Mb/s. After months of waiting they told us that we would be given £75 compensation and allowed to leave the contract an join another ISP. I pointed out this was pointless as BT Openreach provide the last mile from the FTTC to the house which is the problem. They came back with an offer of £100 compensation. The Ombudsman is a waste of space and toothless, the problem is lack on investment in the telephone network by BT Group, they are more interested in buying EE and football rights.

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Does this included "Unlimited" usage....

....by unlimted we actually mean 40gb total, oh and 100mb per day during peak times....which are 00:00.01 to 23:59:59

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Boffin

Now all we need to do is make sure that consumers understand the differences between 'advertised speed', 'connection speed' and 'throughput'. Some clarifications from me:

'Advertised speed' - a figure that describes the technical capabilities of the technology.

'Connection speed' - a figure that indicates what speed the technology is actually providing at a specific installation.

'Throughput' - a figure that indicates how much data can be actually be transmitted in a given period of time.

Note that 'throughput' needs further clarification as it could be measured in several ways some of which are:

- The maximum speed at which data can arrive at or leave from the end user's modem.

- The maximum speed at which data can travel between the end user's modem and their ISP's servers.

- The maximum speed at which data can travel between the end user's modem and whatever server they are choosing to measure (note that this is a very complicated thing to define and the Internet offers no speed guarantees).

Oh and all of the above need to be measured by the consumer over a fully wired connection.

I've wanted Ofcom to concentrate on throughput for a long time (not least because it's a product differentiator that can actually be meaningfully controlled through customer choice as opposed to connection speed which can't be for most of us). Unfortunately it really isn't a simple topic. I don't see how advertising can ever provide the requisite information. The nearest I can think of is a rating system but we're still left trying to choose how we measure throughput.

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Meh

And for a real world analogy let's consider cars. I'll pick the Honda Jazz.

'Advertised speed' - up to 118mph (yes, really)

'Connection speed' - up to 70mph (I never break the speed limit)

'Throughput' - 42mph (my daily commute is part rural, part urban).

But of course 'throughput' can be measured in many ways so:

a)No higher than prevailing speed limits along chosen route.

b)42mph daily commute.

c)60mph - driving from home to Dad's house (over 180 miles, mostly motorway and dual carriageway).

d)30mph if M40 J11 is closed during commute (screws up Banbury traffic flow even more than normal).

If you wanted (gawd knows why) to advertise a Honda Jazz based on speed what figure do you choose? And at what point does a Honda Jazz driver have the right to complain to Honda about their car being slow?

Now this analogy actually falls at the first hurdle because a car is a 'good' and an internet connection is a 'service' so different consumer laws apply (the latter doesn't have to be 'fit for the purpose') but I still think it's an interesting thought experiment.

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It's not quite as simple as that. At one place from which I connect to my VPN, packet loss on the VPN at peak times is far greater than packet loss going directly. Seems to be some sort of deep packet inspection attempting to throttle torrents / Tor / streaming, but it makes trying to read my e-mail when I can't get into work because of the recent train strikes almost impossible.

It would be easy for an ISP to whitelist bandwidth measurement services and claim that everything is fine, whilst still providing a very poor service.

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Silver badge

As an ex-broadband Helldesk bod, it was always difficult trying to explain 'speeds'.

I could look just at the basic circuit tests and tell how much would finish up trickling out the other end - not even a need for pings or throughput or anything else.

Yes, it can leave the exchange at warp speed but after it's been snaking around archaic cables and countless joints things can get a tad slow.

That a house can have several devices all desperate to grab as much bandwidth as possible is often forgotten or just 'No, it doesn't work like that . . .' from the customer

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@ Andrue C

One of life's real skills is simplifying complexity. Round these parts, most people understand some fraction of the complexity. But what goes on round the back, customers don't care about, in fact the only people who do care are those paid to care.

So from a customer point of view, it is quite simple - can the ISP deliver the maximum speed they advertise for a decent amount of the time in normal usage? If I've paid for an 80 Mbps connection, can they deliver that between my router, and their connection to the internet backbone, for say at least 18 hours a day, and at least 60% of advertised speed in the remaining time? Admittedly they can't be held to account for wider web slowdowns, but they contract for the local loop and for the trunk telecomms and routing services, so unless its some major DC or international cable failure (or simply a slow web site host), they should have control. In commercial situations you'd have an SLA that defined what was, and what as not acceptable, there's no reason why a customer SLA can't be forced on ISPs as part of their telecommunications licence, and (as per my comments earlier) give Ombusdman Services the remit and resource to test lines and deal with complaints - not testing for noise, jitter, signal strength, et al, merely the data connection quality, and perhaps latency, since that's important to a lot of users.

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Stop

Re the Honda Jazz

Nice analogy, but in this instance the broadband ISP is providing the roads not the car.

To put it another way, Honda = laptop manufacturer. The ISP if more like the Highways Authority.

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Unhappy

Car analogy

> And for a real world analogy let's consider cars. I'll pick the Honda Jazz.

The car equivalent to web browsing is having a man wearing a foam rubber suit advertising some business that you never use, climb into the back seat as soon as you stop at the traffic lights. At the next set of lights he squeezes out and another squeezes in, preventing you from moving off until they have finished.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Re the Honda Jazz

And FFS, why pick a Honda Jazz? The pipe smoking codger's Car of Choice, notorious for being driven in a manner that simultaneously combines unlikely characteristics like "unenterprising", "timid", "random", "slow" and "dangerous".

Andrue C, you don't have anything to 'fess up to us on the car front, do you?

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Tor ticket

Seems to be some sort of deep packet inspection attempting to throttle torrents / Tor / streaming

Interesting. Other people's experiences?

It would be easy for an ISP to whitelist bandwidth measurement services and claim that everything is fine, whilst still providing a very poor service.

Let's make sure we tell them that such monitoring (by officials) will be done over Tor.

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Bronze badge

For a good number of years, I have ranted on about the need for a "provision of services" act,which, amongst other things, would require people providing, or offering to provide a service for money must be (a) capable (competent, appropriately equipped, licences, etc) of providing said service, (b) capable of being held responsible for failing to do so at no cost to the customer - which would probably mean being bonded (like ATOL) - although "like whips and bondage" might be more appropriate in some cases, (c) must do so in an appropriate timescale, and (d) the service should be should of adequate quality for the use anticipated (its not enough to send email - the emails must arrive intact, in a reasonable amount of time, and not be sold to third parties), and plumbing has to actually work, and not obstruct the kitchen to the extent you are inconvenienced.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to provide a quality specification for political parties.

I would legally exempt anyone who provides or offers to provide for free.

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Silver badge

Oh wow.

So now we'll see a lot of adverts for 0.076Gbs fibre, with a GUARANTEED 14,400 bps, even at peak times!

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Oh dear .....

That will be Virgin completely screwed then.

The irony of using Bolt to advertise their broadband just kills me!

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Re: Oh dear .....

That will be Virgin completely screwed then.

The irony of using Bolt to advertise their broadband just kills me!

I rejected Virgin as an ISP the moment I realised they are using a 15:1 ratio for their uploads. If upload actually matters, they are no better than BT/OR on paper.

Of course, upload is completely unimportant, no one does anything that might be upload heavy on cloud backups or video chat...

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Re: Oh dear .....

We're sort of lucky with BT. We had our 52mb updated to 76mb automatically and we're getting around 70mb constantly.

BT are a truly horrible company to deal with but the broadband does work.

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Meh

Re: Oh dear .....

In one respect, yes I pay for 200Mb and it would be nice to have that at all times. It's not like I sit there benchmarking it every 5 minutes, but the worst speed that I've ever seen is 165Mb.

While not 200Mb that is still more than enough to do pretty much anything that I might want to be doing during peak times. Upload speeds are still rubbish, but I don't do enough uploading for it to be more than an occasional annoyance.

Best I've seen off-peak is over 220Mb.

I've no doubt that it varies by area, but certainly in my circumstance do you really think I'm going to leave Virgin and go to a service like BT Infinity where they 'estimate' that I 'might' get 'somewhere' between 28-37Mb 'possibly' subject to the 'haha' clause of subsection 'fuck' paragraph 'you' of your customer agreement*?

Funnily enough, no, I'll stay with Virgin thanks.

* I appreciate that potentially removing that last bit is the entire point of the article, but I couldn't help myself.

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Stampede

A rush of people who failed to read the 'Up To' bit and get all narked when told to piss off and read the T&C's they agreed to.

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Anonymous Coward

Service breaks should also be considered. My Vodafone (Demon) ADSL connection regularly drops out for several minutes every day at unpredictable times. Doing a router reboot - the log says it has successfully authenticated with their server and has been allocated client/DNS IP addresses - but no target IP addresses are responding.

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Anonymous Coward

Breaks

I gave up on Demon a while ago, since Voda took them over, downhill all the way. The email removal was last straw

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Anonymous Coward

What uptime are you paying for?

There are plenty of people who'll sell you two or three nines, all the way up to five if you really want it, but what you won't like is the price.

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Silver badge

Cue more tweakery

In case people haven't noticed, most connections to speedtest sites have been running at full speed for quite a while even if everything else is choked.

The question is if this is a case of the speed test sites colluding with ISPs, or they're all using the same ports and ISPs are trading lists of IPs to ensure they get priority service.

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Re: Cue more tweakery

No, it's the chemtrails wot did it.

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Re: Cue more tweakery

The question is if this is a case of the speed test sites colluding with ISPs, or they're all using the same ports and ISPs are trading lists of IPs to ensure they get priority service.

Of course they're prioritising sites like Ookla. With a regulator as robust as wet lettuce, wouldn't you?

However, it should be easy to check that, and insert new licence conditions that ban them from doing that. Since ISP culture seems to be "if you can get away with it, do it", you'd quickly have a bag full of complaints to investigate, but after a couple of guilty ISP's had been banned from new sales for a month or two, the industry would get the message. I've worked in a business offering retail services, running outbound call centres, big campaigns and inbound sales call handling. All the time fighting to acquire new business to offset churn, and I promise you that the threat of a sales ban (even for quite short periods) scares the living daylights out of these companies.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue more tweakery

"The question is if this is a case of the speed test sites colluding with ISPs, "

A client response time limits under normal conditions is a combination of bandwidth in both directions and and processing latency en route.

How do speed tests work? Do they just pump data in one direction so that acknowledgement latency is ignored?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cue more tweakery

"Our" small (1000 customer) rural ISP "advertises" (it was on the back of invoices 2 years ago) 100M/10M service.

Unless the upstream ISP has renegotiated our deal without telling us (again), it's a 1g connection to upstream (although things like VoIP and IPTV aren't counted against that).

So theoretically 1M/customer.. In practice speed tests mostly show 80M or better most of the day and week. Of course, upstream ISP hosts one of the Ookla speedtest servers too, so speed tests only show speed from us to upstream ISP...

Sadly we don't actually have a way of measuring realized performance per customer in any way shape or form, except for driving out and hooking up a laptop and running speed test...

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Re: Cue more tweakery

"However, it should be easy to check that"

How, exactly?

If ISPs are determined not to be caught, they're going to obfuscate when Ofcom comes calling and as soon as they get wind of side-by-side testing (smokeping anyone?) they'll ensure those targets are whitelisted too.

This scam is one of the harder ones to quantify and quite frankly, Ofcom don't have enough technical staff to do it - or the motivation to try.

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Up to, or it's misleading.

How will this work? I accept that the providers are pretty loose when it comes to advertising and a clamp-down wouldn't go amiss, but unless they have almost infinite bandwidth to the local cabinet they can only ever make "up to" promises. A user might get 80Gbps at 3AM when the rest of the street is asleep, but when all the street has 4 users per house gaming and on Netflix the bandwidth is going to drop.

Me - I'm on 40-years-in-the-soft twisted pair and a 20-year-old BT Voyager. I get by on 7Mbps, but at 300 yards from the cabinet I consider myself lucky and don't fall for any marketing about upgrading. I won't get much more speed until I get FTTH.

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Wifi

Most people will measure their speed by running a speed test over wifi. This is just as dependent on their wifi speed rather than just the broadband speed.

You can deliver a constant 100Mbs to the modem, but if the wifi access point is in an area full of interference on a congested channel, and you are sitting 40 feet away through various brick walls and ceilings, you aren't gonna get it. And that isn't the fault of the ISP.

Not trying to excuse the ISPs from responsibility as they are generally lying shitbags, just sayin' that it's not always their fault.

I used to only get between 8-20Mbps upstairs from my 100Mb Virgin line (downstairs). I changed the router from an Apple Airport Express (I only use the Virgin one in modem mode) for a better Asus one and now get 100Mb everywhere.

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Anonymous Coward

I'd like to see metered billing...

...no, not pay-per-megabyte transferred metering, but percentile metering based on provided service. We all know the "up to" pricing model, and if we bought "up to" 1 Ford Fiesta on the same pricing model, I'm sure Ford would be very happy. Pricing needs to be brought in line with delivery!

For example, if you buy a 100Mb service, and the average* connection speed between your router and the DSLAM is only 50% of what the advertised speed is, you pay only 50% of the monthly charge. The average speed, in 1-hour windows, is calculated for billing.

When telecommunications providers are no longer allowed to "sweat" assets and charge a king's ransom for a service that's never delivered, then you will start to see infrastructure upgrades happen.

*Only stable speeds - i.e. when the router has been connected for 1 hour or more at that speed, counts. If the router cannot sustain that speed for 1 hour, it counts as zero. To avoid customer abuse, a router that is disconnected is charged the full price when other routers in the neighbouring area are connected, unless a service technician logs a fault.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'd like to see metered billing...

How would that work commercially? The cost of providing service to you remains the same.

If an ISP couldn't charge you as much as a higher-speed customer they might decide they just don't want to provide you with service at all. Try telling your local car dealer that you propose paying only half the stickered price because the speed limits are low in your town.

I think you'd see exactly the opposite effect of what you're hoping for.

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Surveys have shown...

that a majority of broadband customers don't even know what their connection speed is.

The other problem is most customers can only walk away from congestion on the ISP's backhaul. Everything else where they walk to will likely be just the same.

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FAIL

We have had this QoS based contract exit law in Italy for a few years already

The law guarantees a minimum broadband service of , say 2 mbps.

Telecom Italia offers 6 mbps or 20 or whatever , if you feel like checking this, then you go to the OFCOM equivalent website, enter a few unique Id codes (tax code , ni number , phone number etc) and they build you a personalized speed test app. This app (NeMeSys) will only run on Windows, only connect to the modem via Ethernet, it quits open browsers & then runs for 24 hours, making frequent calls to a neutral server somewhere else in Italy & measures the throughput. It then delivers the result of the test as a certified download, trusted & traceable and sends the data to the client and the appropriate TELCO.

In my test, it ran - showed that my 6megs at the end of miles of degraded cables was down to sometimes half-a-meg, and allowed me to leave Telecom Italia with no penalties. It really worked.

However, my new telco, SLOWEB as I call them, don’t permit NeMeSys to run, unless you give them 24hours notice that you are about to start profiling your line in a serious way! Magically, 24 h seems to be just enough time for someone to temporarily allocate a better contention ratio, or simply blast more line RF power, to perhaps just pass the tests?

Been-there , done that.

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Thumb Up

Re: We have had this QoS based contract exit law in Italy for a few years already

I just checked, as there are quite a few Nemesys similar named anti-malware systems out there, this is specifically NeMeSys. http://www.tuttoadsl.net/NeMeSys.htm

Now also Mac/Linux versions, I did eventually get SLOWEB to speed up, but that’s another story.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: We have had this QoS based contract exit law in Italy for a few years already

Doesn't that just leave you with no service Dave?

Great that you're no longer paying for slow Internet, but now you have no Internet at all. Where's the benefit?

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Re: We have had this QoS based contract exit law in Italy for a few years already

The idea behind this OFCOM-based 'real-Ookla' is that you can leave the lying Telco who has oversold their service, who is protected by very expensive leaving clauses - and move to another lying Telco who hasn't yet oversold their services. (I used to work in UK for a Telco - we refused to supply the whole region of Norwich/Norfolk because it wouldn't have made us enough money)

When I was able to leave the Telecom Italia contract, avoiding paying a couple of years for the no-service as a leaving penalty, I then moved to a DSL company that used a slightly more advanced DSLAM, they currently get nearly(*) 13mbps over the old degraded telecom lines. I also bought a backup 35mbs nearly(*) internet contract with a radio based provider from the local mountaintops, using Mexican hardware, metropolitan area WiMAX. And for third resilience, bought a 4G iPad with reliable but capped 75mbs up/down LTE.

(*)nearly! some days I get a 13mbps clock on the DSL, but with no empty buckets for the data, or just over-agressive deep profiling through a 100meg traffic-choke-point. Some days the 35mbps radio WiMAX is out, for hours, with no explanation but rarely together with the DSL.

Being based in an Italian village with slowly improving infrastructure, it's great to have the Apple iPad 4G/Wi-Fi hotspot as on the rare day per year when everything else is out, this has so-far worked - and has been needed.

The 100watt shortwave icom 745 with HF data is the 4th layer of resilience, and I think I could get a mobile tropo-EME system together in half-a-day as the portable long-yagis for 2M/70 are in the basement. lower datarate, but great LPI/LPD.

have a good day!

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Silver badge

Re: We have had this QoS based contract exit law in Italy for a few years already

"don’t permit NeMeSys to run, unless you give them 24hours notice that you are about to start profiling your line in a serious way! "

The whole point of the app is to be able to do it without notification, so if they're imposing this kind of requirement, it should be made explicitly illegal for them to do it.

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Bronze badge

Given BT have a monopoly in many areas, I want my line rental cost set pro-rated against the speed my line achieves vs a theoreticallly perfect 40Mb/s FTTC service.

If I can get 40Mb/s sync, then I pay full price. If I get less, and that includes the uplink speed, I only pay a proportion.

If there's no FTTC, then ADSL2/2+ should be the benchmark, at 24Mb/s sync.

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Anonymous Coward

You don't pay Openreach, you pay your ISP, and I don't think there's anywhere that BT have an ISP monopoly. The unintended consequence of your proposal is that ISPs will decide they don't wish to serve customers who could achieve lower speeds - their cost remains the same so why would they want a low or zero margin customer? ISPs only make a couple of quid a month from each customer, if you pay less that the going rate you'll likely cost them money. The added benefit of this to ISPs is that not serving slow customers increases their average speed - a free upgrade with no capex.

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Silver badge

Nothing will change!

When I switched to EE fibre broadband a year or so back, a line test/check was done and the result said that I would get a maximum of circa 35Mps on the 38Mbps service and circa 46Mbps on the 76Mbps service. I decided on the 35Mbps service which came with a minimum guaranteed download speed of circa 14Mbps.. As yet I've not seen line speed drop below 30Mbps, although I regularly experience slow internet access.

If however, I had contracted with Zen, they would have given me a 'normal' speed of 35Mbps with an SLA that if the speed dropped below 32Mbps. I would be able to report a fault and get an engineer to investigate.

I therefore, have to question whether this latest idea from Ofcom will actually change anything, as surely the majors will simply quote a low guaranteed minimum speed.

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