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Brits bewildered by broadband bluster

21st November 2013 Print

Broadband providers are confusing customers with technical jargon that is seeing them miss out on the cheapest deals and best services.
A study of 2,000 internet users by revealed that one in five baffled Brits are unable to decipher the words and abbreviations used in broadband advertising and bills. Commonly-used terms that puzzle customers include Mbps, MB and traffic management. 46% of respondents said they don’t understand the majority of words used to describe their broadband package.
As a result, millions of broadband customers are signing up to the wrong package, which could see them each paying up to £100 extra in unnecessary costs every year. Over half questioned in the study said they may have paid more than they should have because they were unclear about which package suited their broadband needs.
Nearly a quarter (28%) are not confident they have the right broadband package for their requirements, and one in four admit they struggle to understand their monthly broadband bill.
The research also revealed that a third (58%) of those questioned have no idea what their monthly broadband download limit is – which means they are either at risk of penalty fines for exceeding their limits, or they could be paying over the odds for a download allowance they simply do not need.
When faced with a typical broadband newspaper advert, most broadband users don’t understand what the frequently-used term ‘Up to 16Mb’ means, with over half (56%) thinking it refers to download capacity, when it actually reflects the available broadband speed.
Dominic Baliszewski, telecoms expert from, says: “British broadband customers should be empowered to make informed decisions about where they spend their money, which is why the results of this survey are so worrying.
“Broadband is an essential utility for the majority of households nowadays but it is being over-complicated with a lot of unnecessary techno jargon that, to most everyday customers, may as well be a foreign language.
“As a result, customers are either making mistakes when it comes to signing up to a new broadband deal, or they are simply staying put on a package that is completely unsuitable for them because they are bewildered by advertising terminology and put off by what is perceived to be a frustrating switching process.
“We have lots of resources to assist customers in deciphering their broadband needs but providers must play their part, making it clear to people exactly what is available and at what price. We would like to see clearer, upfront pricing that combines line rental and package cost together instead of separating them out, and simplified language across all package literature.”
It seems Brits also have no idea what download speed they should be receiving, with little concept of how speed works either. Over 80% couldn’t say exactly what the advertised download speed was for their package, whilst many couldn’t correctly identify which factors would impact on their connection’s performance.
Over half of respondents failed to spot that their distance from the exchange (the number one element that impacts hugely on broadband speed) was something that could affect their service. The majority (59%) did recognise that the number of people in their household online at the same time would affect their connection, but over two thirds didn’t spot that the number of people in their street also using their broadband at the same time could impact on speed too. Just under 10% thought that if someone was on the phone it would negatively impact upon their broadband connection.
In response to the results of the study, is launching a series of free ‘Baffled By Broadband’ advice clinics via its Twitter feed. Anyone seeking advice can ask questions by tweeting @broadbandchoice and using the hashtag #baffledbybroadband. The first clinic will launch at 12.30pm on Friday 22nd November.
Chrissie Maher, founder of the Plain English Campaign commented: “Businesses must stop hiding behind technical jargon in order to baffle customers; the broadband sector in particular needs to realise that customers want straightforward information presented clearly and simply. We applaud for this initiative and will be interested to hear about the response they get to this service."’s jargon buster:
Download limit
Unless you have unlimited broadband, your download limit is a monthly allowance restricting how much you can do online. Confusingly, it’s not just downloads that count towards your download limit - even checking emails and browsing the web will nibble away at your allowance. The big one to watch though is streaming, especially films and TV in high-definition (HD), as a 10GB download limit won’t go far if you regularly watch video online. If you go over your monthly allowance your provider may charge you extra to keep using the internet until the end of the month. Packages with a download limit are really only designed for smaller households with light to moderate usage.
A telephone exchange is where all the broadband and phone connections of your local area meet and connect to their respective provider’s network. Gone are the days when a human operator at the exchange would have to connect your call - these days it’s all done by computer technology. The important thing to note about exchanges when shopping for broadband is that your distance from the nearest exchange can have a huge impact on the internet speeds you’re able to receive. Fibre optic broadband - in particular Virgin Media broadband, which operates independently from BT’s copper telephone wires - is far less affected by distance from the exchange - so makes an excellent choice for anyone with slow speeds because they live so far from the nearest one.
Fair use policy / Acceptable use policy
Although they may not realise it, many unlimited broadband customers are subject to a fair or acceptable use policy dictating how much they’re allowed to download. For the majority, it’s no biggie. Unless you’re downloading enormous amounts daily, the chances of you breaching the fair usage terms of your contract are really small. These policies and their attached penalties - normally what’s known as traffic management or ‘throttling’, where speeds are temporarily restricted - exist to protect customers whose speeds might be affected by the excessive downloads of others.
Fibre optic
Sometimes referred to as ‘superfast’ broadband, fibre optic cable is gradually replacing copper telephone wire for the delivery of internet services across Britain. Virgin Media is the only major provider with a purpose-built fibre optic cable network, which allows it to offer the UK’s fastest widely available broadband speeds. However, with huge investment from the government, BT is in the process of upgrading its ageing telephone network with fibre optic technology. It will aim to bring superfast fibre optic broadband to 95% of the population by 2017.
Local loop unbundling (LLU)
Exciting as it sounds, the ‘local loop’ is really just a big bunch of wires. Specifically, it’s the big bunch of wires that links your house to the local telephone exchange, which, unless you live in Hull, would historically have been owned by BT. Even post-privatisation, BT still looks after our national telecoms infrastructure, through its separate Openreach networks division. Openreach lets LLU providers, the likes of TalkTalk and Sky, install their own equipment inside the exchange and serve their customers directly, rather than simply re-selling a wholesale BT internet service.
Megabit (Mb)
A ‘megabit’ is a unit of measurement for the transfer of digital information or data, which to most of us just means broadband speeds. For example, a BT Infinity broadband package with speeds of up to 38Mb is, at least in theory, capable of transferring 38 megabits of data per second. However, actual speeds can vary depending on a wide range of factors - the main one being how far away you live from the local telephone exchange. Under current UK advertising rules, providers can only state an ‘up to’ speed if at least 10% of their customers are able to receive it.
Megabyte (MB)
This is where things get tricky. A ‘megabyte’, not to be confused with ‘megabit’, is another unit of measurement for digital information or data. Megabytes refer to the amount of data that’s being transferred across your broadband connection. You can think of it like internet currency - a song you download from iTunes might cost 5MB of your download allowance, although this is less of a concern with unlimited broadband. Just to confuse matters, broadband usage is normally measured in gigabytes (GB), which are roughly the equivalent of 1,000MB.
Traffic management
If lots of people use the internet at the same time, their network can get congested and speeds drop. To combat this, many providers manage traffic - slow certain types of online activity and prioritise others - to ensure everyone gets a consistent performance.
Traffic management is also often used to cut the speed, or ‘throttle’, anyone who exceed their monthly download limits or downloads excessive amounts on some unlimited packages. However, some providers, such as Sky, BT and TalkTalk, offer truly unlimited packages that don’t have any download limits or traffic management.
For more jargon-busting broadband basics, visit