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How to get the broadband speed you’re paying for

Good Housekeeping UK logo Good Housekeeping UK 14/03/2019 Emilie Martin
a man smiling for the camera © skynesher - Getty Images

If you often find yourself twiddling your thumbs waiting for a webpage to load, struggling to piece together snippets of a video chat that keeps cutting out, or watching an online video that freezes every other frame, help is at hand.

New Ofcom rules – effective from the start of this month – mean broadband providers are now required to give potential customers a more realistic idea of the internet connection speeds they can expect before they sign a contract. What’s more, it will be easier to switch providers if your broadband speed is consistently slower than the minimum speed stated in your contract.

Video: How to complain about your broadband (Birmingham Mail)

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‘When you sign a contract, you should be treated fairly and know exactly what you’re getting,’ said Ofcom’s Lindsey Fussell. ‘These protections mean broadband shoppers can buy with confidence. Before they sign up, customers will be told their minimum internet speed. And if companies break that promise, they’ll have to sort it out quickly, or let the customer walk away.’

Know your rights

Under the terms of Ofcom’s new code of practice, broadband companies must provide at the point of sale an estimated broadband speed that takes into account the typically slower speeds most of us experience between the peak times of 8pm and 10pm. Alongside this, you must be given a minimum guaranteed speed for your broadband before you sign on the dotted line.

If your broadband speed falls below this level, the provider has 30 days to put things right. If they can’t, you can walk away from your contract without paying a penalty fee and switch to another provider if you think you’ll get a faster service elsewhere.

Shot of an exhausted-looking businesswoman sitting in front of his laptop at his desk. © Getty Shot of an exhausted-looking businesswoman sitting in front of his laptop at his desk.

What’s more, if you are one of the 22million Brits signed up to a bundled service that includes at least a landline in addition to broadband, you can now cancel the entire deal if your broadband speed isn’t up to scratch.

With big broadband providers such as BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media signed up to the new rules, Ofcom estimates that 95% of UK broadband customers stand to benefit from the changes.

A step in the right direction

Price comparison website uSwitch said that the changes are a step in the right direction but added that more needs to be done to give all UK households access to faster broadband, particularly in rural areas.

a close up of a laptop computer sitting on top of a keyboard: Fibre optic broadband © John Lamb - Getty Images Fibre optic broadband A spokesperson told us: ‘Alongside other measures such as the universal service obligation, which will give everyone in the UK a legal right to broadband speeds of at least 10Mbps by 2020, and automatic compensation if customers suffer a loss of service, delayed installations and missed appointments – both of which are due to come in over the next couple of years – these changes form an important set of rules which should make things fairer for consumers.’

Check your speed

To find out how fast your broadband really is, use the free broadband speed tests at the Ofcom-accredited comparison websites Broadband.co.uk, Broadband Choices or Simplifydigital. Run a speed test at different times of day over several days and on different devices to build up a more accurate picture.

It’s the download speed that will determine how good your online experience is.

a person sitting in front of a laptop: Senior couple video conferencing with granddaughters through laptop computer at home © Cavan Images - Getty Images Senior couple video conferencing with granddaughters through laptop computer at home The GHI’s resident tech expert Carrie-Ann Skinner explains: ‘The download speed is the speed at which data - whether that’s the information contained in a web page or the stream of a TV show, movie or music playlist – is transferred from the internet to your device. The faster the speed, the quicker that data is made available. When things slow down, you’ll find web pages taking ages to load or video stopping and starting, which is known as buffering.’

Based on the results of the speed test and your postcode, these websites will also tell you whether another provider offers a faster service in your area, and how much its service costs.

How fast is fast enough?

As you might expect, you’ll pay more for a faster broadband service. So how do you know when you’re shopping around for a new broadband package what speed connection you should go for?

Poor broadband speed © Getty Poor broadband speed As a rule of thumb, a broadband connection of less than 10Mbit/s (that’s megabits per second – also often abbreviated as Mbps) will fit the bill if all you want to do is browse the web, read the news online and listen to music. You’ll need a 10Mbit/s connection to handle video calling, or 30Mbit/s to watch streamed TV shows, films and videos in HD (high definition). 

If several people in your household are likely to be online at the same time, watching UltraHD videos, video calling or playing games, go for a 300Mbit/s broadband connection, or as fast a service as you can afford.

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