Tackling misleading broadband speeds
By Will Goodbody, Science & Technology Correspondent
It’s a bugbear of broadband users everywhere. The Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) ad, marketing material or contract promises that when using their broadband product the consumer will enjoy download speeds of “up to 60Mbps”, for example. That’s what the user pays for and naturally, that’s what they expect. But in reality very often that is not what they are getting. In fact, depending on the time of day and the type of connection, the actual speed may be a fraction of that which is advertised or promised. That’s due to a variety of factors, principally fluctuating congestion on the network, and other technical factors.
When it comes to other products or services, this type of misleading advertising isn’t acceptable. Under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980, goods must be as described i.e the buyer must not be mislead into buying something by the description of goods or services given orally by a salesperson or an advertisement. That should be the case for broadband products too. But in reality it doesn’t follow. People, on the whole, don’t complain about it – even though it affects their ability to watch, listen, buy, read and share on the internet.
It’s a problem which is likely to become more severe before it improves. The growing use of TV streaming services like Netflix, the spike in online gaming and the increase take-up of cloud based applications and file sharing means traffic will only increase, faster than Internet Service Providers can upgrade their networks to cope with the extra bandwidth required.
A recent report commissioned by the European Commission highlighted in broad terms the extent of the issue here. It found that on average, Irish internet users only receive half the download speed advertised by their ISP. In particular, consumers here who get their broadband using xDSL technology only receive 49.98% of the speed advertised by their ISP – well below the European average of 71% of advertised speeds. Perhaps not surprisingly Irish consumers who get their broadband via cable do better, receiving 85% of the advertised download speed. Overall the average download speed experienced by users across the EU is just 75.6% of what is advertised by Internet Service Providers.
I understand Comreg, the telecoms regulator, is planning to tackle this issue over the coming months. In the meantime, a private UK based company, is conducting its own research in this area. SamKnows was the company that conducted the study on behalf of the European Commission earlier this year. But now it is going to look in much greater depth at Irish broadband speeds, in an effort to debunk the myths surrounding the problem.
In order to do this, SamKnows needs volunteers around the country to help it. All that’s required is for SamKnows to install, for free, a special gadget known as the Whitebox in the volunteer’s home network. The device connects to the user’s router and monitors home network traffic levels to ensure that the speed tests it runs only happen when you are not using the internet. This, the company says, is to ensure the results are accurate and that the tests do not disturb the users. Importantly, the Whitebox does not collect any personal information or take any data on what you’re actually doing online. The company has already been testing broadband speeds in other locations across the world, including the US, Europe, Singapore and Brazil, where it is regulator approved.
If you are interested in signing up to the initiative, you can do so at http://www.samknows.ie/