|Lies, damned lies - and broadband performance!
12 Dec 2003
A few days ago I expressed concern about suppliers advertising as 'broadband' services whose best performance turns out to be 150 kilobits per second (kbps) - less than one third the speed of the 'standard' ADSL consumer service. Now I find that OFTEL, the telecommunications regulator on the point of merging into OFCOM, has started reporting as 'broadband' any service that delivers 128 kbps, which happens to be what you get if you are clever enough to use both lines of the old ISDN service. Confusingly, OFTEL's latest report defines as 'narrowband' "speeds up to and including 128 kilobits per second", and as 'broadband' "data rates of 128 kbps and above". Presumably some nuance of the difference between "speeds" and "data rates" means that a 128kbps service isn't counted twice!
My concerns about this are twofold:
First, I worry that my constituents and other consumers - including the owners of small firms - may be fooled into thinking they will get the kind of lightning performance suggested by broadband's advertising when they sign up for a 128kbps service. I'm currently exploring the use of video conferencing for constituents between North West Hampshire and Westminster, and find that even the standard (256k upload) broadband service provides only a rudimentary video link.
Second, I worry that the Government, urgently looking for ways to meet its promise that we can all have access by 2005, may be tempted to relax on the grounds that ISDN is already available to almost everyone and can deliver 128k if you use both its lines.
OFTEL's excuse for reducing its definition of broadband from 256k to 128k is that 'the industry' promotes services as broadband that only deliver 128k. OFTEL's job is to look after the consumer as well as industry, and in my view should be looking very closely at two issues:
- the difference between the promise of "broadband" as it is promoted and the typical user experience at 128, 256 or even 521 kbps
- the need for government and the regulator to be crystal clear and completely open about the difference between 'introductory' broadband at below one megabit per second and the 'higher performance broadband' that is needed for critical applications such as video conferencing.