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Reasons for receiving slower than advertised broadband speeds

Most broadband packages are advertised with their headline speeds, for example up to 20Mb per second. However, it is unlikely that a customer will be able to receive the headline speed all of the time.

There are a number of reasons that a customer may not receive the headline broadband connection speed advertised by internet service providers (ISPs). These include:

  • Where a customer lives: the maximum speed available declines the further the customer is away from the telephone exchange – with typical copper wiring, the further the broadband signal travels, the slower and more distorted they tend to become;
  • Customer set up: electrical interference; where the router is in comparison to the devices using it; and the quality of the customer’s line can affect broadband speed;
  • Peak times: the number of people using the network at any one time—at peak times (usually evenings) broadband speed may be slower.

More information on factors affecting broadband speeds is available in Ofcom’s Consumer Guide on Broadband Speeds.

Advertising broadband speeds

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK independent regulator of advertising across all media and enforces rules on how headline broadband speed claims are presented to consumers. 

In the UK, the content of advertising, sales promotions and direct marketing across all media, including marketing on websites, is self-regulated by the ASA. It does this by enforcing the Advertising Codes; there are separate codes for non-broadcast and broadcast advertisements. Adverts are expected to be “legal, decent, honest and truthful”. The ASA is independent of both the Government and the advertising industry. It is recognised by the Government and other regulators as the body to deal with complaints about advertising. Its remit includes acting on and investigating complaints about advertisements as well as proactively monitoring and taking action against misleading, harmful or offensive advertisements, sales promotions and direct marketing. If a complaint about an advertisement is upheld, the advertiser must withdraw or amend the advertisement and not use the advertising approach again. All ASA adjudications are published.

The Library Briefing Paper The Role of the Advertising Standards Authority (23 February 2016) (CPB 6130) provides an overview of the functions and remit of the ASA.

The Advertising Codes are set by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) and are accompanied by Advertising Guidance (non-broadcast and broadcast). The Broadband speed claims Advertising Guidance explains that headline speed claims are permitted to be advertised if they are achievable by at least 10% of the relevant customer base, where the qualification “up to” is used when presenting the headline broadband speed.

Reviewing how broadband speed claims are advertised

In November 2016, the ASA published independent research into consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims made in advertisements. The research found that:

  • Speed is an important factor for a significant proportion of consumers who are making decisions between providers; 
  • Levels of knowledge and understanding of broadband speeds vary, but it is low overall with many not knowing what speed they need to carry out daily online tasks; 
  • Most understand that the higher the number in the ad, the higher the speed of the service, but many are unclear on what this means for them and what speed they would likely achieve; 
  • Most consumers believe they are likely to receive a speed at or close to the headline speed claim when, for many, that is not likely to be the case.

The ASA has called for a change to the way broadband speed claims are advertised to ensure consumers are not misled and CAP has announced it will review its guidance to advertisers. CAP is expected to report publicly in Spring 2017. ASA’s announcement was supported by the Internet Service Providers’ Association (the UK trade association for ISPs).

Ofcom Voluntary Codes of Practice


Alongside the advertising requirements, Ofcom has asked internet service providers to sign up to a voluntary Code of Practice for residential broadband speeds (updated in 2015). The Code requires ISPs to provide consumers with clear, accurate information on broadband speeds, including the maximum speeds they can achieve, the estimated speed on their line, and factors that may slow down the speed. It also requires that ISPs provide a route of redress when speed performance is poor.

The following ISPs have confirmed that they have implemented and signed up to the Code:

  • BT
  • Sky
  • Virgin Media
  • KC
  • EE
  • Talk Talk
  • Vodafone
  • Zen Internet

This does not guarantee compliance but Ofcom expects signatories to honour the letter and spirit of the Code.

The following ISPs have confirmed that they intend to sign up to the Code once they are compliant with the requirements:

  • Hyperoptic
  • Plusnet
  • InTouch Systems
  • The Co-op
  • Post Office



There is also a Voluntary Business Broadband Speeds Code of Practice (2016), which requires ISPs to provide accurate and transparent speed information on standard business broadband services at point of sale, manage business customers’ speed-related problems, and allow customers to exit the contract without penalty if speeds fall below a minimum threshold.

Current signatories to the business Code are:

  • BT Business
  • Daisy Communications
  • KCOM (Hull business)
  • Talk Talk Business
  • Virgin Media
  • XLN
  • Zen

This does not guarantee compliance but Ofcom expects signatories to honour the letter and spirit of the Code.

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