- 5 Jun 08, 09:20 GMT
Did they know we planned our Broadband Britain tour for this week? Ofcom - the media and telecoms watchdog has just published its broadband speed code - and revealed that it's right in the middle of the biggest study of speeds ever undertaken in the UK.
Yes, even bigger than our exercise this week which attracted more than 30,000 people in just a few hours on Tuesday - evidence of what a hot issue this is for anyone who has a broadband connection.
The code is voluntary, but with companies accounting for 90% of all broadband connections signing up, it will effectively become the standard which any firm will need to adopt if it is to be taken seriously by consumers. So how tough is it?
Well it concentrates not so much on the advertising of broadband as on the point when the customer signs on the dotted line - or, more likely, clicks on "accept" on a website. The ISPs will now be required to provide customers with "an accurate estimate of the maximum speed that line can support." So what happens if that estimate turns out to be too optimistic? Well they'll then have to offer customers "the choice to move onto a lower speed package" - which I suppose means a cheaper deal.
Ofcom says it will be monitoring ISPs' behaviour closely through techniques such as "mystery shopping" and there's the threat of a statutory code if they don't shape up.
So will this instantly put an end to the confusion? Will those people who have been angry and disappointed that they are only getting 2Mbps on an "up to 8Mbps" deal now be satisfied? Probably not, because, as far as I can see, the code does nothing to stop ISPs labelling their products in the same "up to a zillion megs" way they always have. If your neighbour tells you he's getting a "20 meg line", you'll be annoyed if you can't get that speed too.
As we have seen, broadband speed can be difficult to measure and can change like the weather on a Scottish hillside from one moment to the next. Perhaps broadband packages need the same kind of colour-coding you now get on cereal boxes, with red, amber and green telling you just how nutritious it is going to be.
Ofcom has installed monitoring equipment in over 2000 homes to measure their broadband speeds and says that will mean tens of millions of speed tests. That should provide a more accurate picture than we have been able to give with our simple snapshot test.
Then perhaps the regulator will have to move onto the advertising of mobile broadband. We have been trying out 3g dongles from three different mobile networks in a range of locations - including on Arthur's Seat overlooking Edinburgh yesterday afternoon. Up there, we downloaded our 10mb test video file from the BBC website in just over a minute - quite respectable.
I am now a convert to mobile broadband - it is great to have a back-up when, for instance, you can't get into the hotel wi-fi. But don't get too excited. "Up to 7.2Mbps" sounds brilliant. But I have never got more than about 1Mbps - and as I write in a hotel in Peterborough, I'm getting something much slower than that.
Mind you it's faster than we got from the wi-fi on the train south from Edinburgh last night. Our hopes of doing a historic live broadcast from the train via broadband were dashed. But then the train company makes no claims about the speed of its internet connection, and offers it to passengers for nothing.
The broadband firms have now agreed that they will give their "passengers" much clearer information about real speeds. Perhaps they will end up blaming a poor connection on leaves on the line, or the wrong kind of snow.
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