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…Superfast Broadband That

In moving into a world of affordable cloud-based services and versatile mobile devices, the way in which we consume Internet access and connectivity will rely on ISPs that can provide a solid, consistently fast and reliable service. once again welcomes Zen Internet and ISPA Council Member Gary Hough to the page. Superfast Broadband This…, the first part of Gary’s “Broadband Week” post, ran yesterday, and readers wanting a more comprehensive understanding of the piece that follows (and a wee bit more of Gary’s biography) will want to start there.

At the ISP who I work for, we are expecting a real boom in the adoption of superfast broadband over the next few years. In fact, we believe it is likely that 95% of UK households and businesses will take up such offers, though of course this depends massively on the network coverage and rollout of suppliers who can deliver it. And this is where my dilemma lies, because we’re now moving away from the home PC, desktop, archaic server networking that we’re all used to and into a world of very affordable cloud-based services and versatile mobile devices. All of this will become the norm as time goes on, of course, and the way in which we consume our internet access and connectivity will rely more and more on ISPs that can provide a solid, consistently fast and reliable service. Our economic success at the local, national and international levels will become dependent on superfast broadband, without which we all lose out in some way, be that education, business, trade or indeed leisure.

As more and more customers come to enjoy the benefits of faster Internet content delivery, and more businesses discover new and indeed cheaper ways of using the Internet to improve on or enhance their commercial performance, managing bandwidth-hungry customers becomes more and more difficult, especially for the larger ISPs like Virgin Media (the one I employ at home). Based on my own experience, I believe these larger ISPs are likely to continue throttling on the fly to cope with the demand and their network capacity issues, and that the impact on you and I will very much depend on your post code area of residence.

It is unfortunate, but up until quite recently I have been unable to utilise the benefit of a free staff account on fibre from my employer, this due to my local exchange not being fibre-enabled. Now, though, I can at last avail myself of this perk, which gives me one heck of an advantage as my company doesn’t traffic shape or manipulate their broadband services like so many do. Sadly, however, most ISP’s customers don’t have the advantage of a free account nor can they simply switch at the drop of a hat, because typically they are tied into a lengthy contract period. In part, this is because BT charges the ISP heavily for the first 12 months, and this charge gets passed on. As such, on fibre at best the customer is looking at a 12-month minimum contract, which can be quite dire if the service is bad.

Ofcom are partly to blame for this situation, because they really do need to look at the wholesale price charged to ISPs that restricts them from providing an alternative and cheaper service. That said, some ISPs (including Zen Internet, I am glad to say) continue to invest heavily into improving access and ensuring that they can provide the best possible service. To me, this shows a real commitment to existing customers and potential new customers alike, who need to know that the longevity and speeds paid for will be delivered.

With ADSL the market competition was less of an issue, as the biggest providers slugged it out for market share and monthly contracts were easier to come by, but as lengthier contracts remain in place for superfast services the budget you set and the reliability of the service you choose will become far more important.

There is no harm in summing up, though by this point you can probably guess which approach I’m going to take. A strong commitment to providing a better service for discerning customers, along with consistently high speeds and excellent support, as well as a years-long track record of continual investment will see me move my fibre broadband service away from Virgin Media to one supplied, ironically, by my employer.

You should think long and hard about which ISP is really going to be committed to you and your fibre broadband service needs for the next 12, 18 or even 24 months. After all, you’re paying for it and you will no doubt be quite tied to it for the foreseeable future.

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Superfast Broadband This…

Is it too much to ask that Virgin Media provide the broadband service paid for, or at least something much closer to it than is currently the case? welcomes “Broadband Week” contributor Gary Hough, Regulatory Manager for Zen Internet and ISPA Council Member. Gary has worked in the ISP industry for the past 18 years and is convinced he is growing old disgracefully, Regulatory Management Post Punk.

Superfast Broadband this and Superfast Broadband that…it’s all you hear these days as ISPs and others bang on and on about needing to have the greatest and fastest internet service that money can buy. I often criticised those ISPs, who dropped leaflets through my door trying to get me to switch to their service under some headline speed that would somehow transform my internet experience. Then one day it all got me thinking, about my own personal use of the internet and how it’s changing so fast that it’s not always easy for me to keep up (even though I work in the internet industry), let alone really know if I will get a truly transformed and faster experience if I did change providers.

There’s no doubt that by 2016 the majority of UK households will have access to a Superfast broadband service, be that Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) or even Fibre to the Premises (FTTP)…but do they really need it? I was unconvinced for quite some time, however I’m now finding it ever more frustrating that my home service provider (Virgin Media) is struggling to give me a superfast service, despite the fact it’s advertised as such and for which I’m certainly paying a lot of money per month. For example, for the princely sum of circa £125.00 + a month all in I take Virgin Media’s TV package, phone line rental, and 60Mb Broadband service. This Broadband service was sold to me as fttp, this despite the fact they use coax cable into my home (check out what Adrian Kennaird at Andrews and Arnold has to say about that on his blog), so I expect to get what I’m paying for…a Fibre to the Premises service. More often than not, though, that 60Mb service is struggling to keep up with the usage at home, especially at peak periods.

It is only my partner and I using our broadband connection, and most evenings we will typically be doing what most couples do these days (or at least I assume they do): fart around on Facebook via our respective iPhones/iPad/laptop, and perhaps listen to some music (Killing Joke, Magazine, Buzzcocks) streamed via YouTube or iTunes to a Bluetooth-connect Bose speaker or similar, etc. Or I might connect into work via VPN to do some last-minute blogging, download the latest meaty tomes from Ofcom, or whatever. Or sometimes we simply use iPlayer to catch up on a missed TV show (I say sometimes because more often than not Virgin streaming can’t cope with the strains of streaming an episode of America’s Next Top Model, and I have found myself wondering if they somehow think this is a feature they are providing, filtering and protecting us from ourselves and our obsession with mediocre TV). Anyway, my partner typically watches funny or surreal video clips posted in FB groups that she is subscribed to, or casually browses topics of interest, so nothing so intense that a 60mb connection can’t or shouldn’t be able to cope with. And yet, in my mind — and especially during peak times — our connection is just not holding up under the strain. Also, we’re only using the Virgin Media home hub (and it’s correctly set up), so I am certain it isn’t a wireless drop out or a technical hitch, though if I use wireless on the standard 2.4 GHz frequency it’s slower than switching to the 5 GHz frequency. The devices we use can handle the higher frequency (with the exception of one laptop), and as all of our devices are in the same living room we aren’t being restricted by any barriers to the connection.

So given all of that, I think it comes down to the connection being artificially manipulated by Virgin Media, due to the contention they face in my particular footprint from which I am served. Of course, as a highly valued customer — their words not mine — Virgin Media is promising me a free* upgrade to 100mb at some point in the future as part of their planned network upgrade, so we may in fact obtain 45Mb at best (given current performance and based on the current delivery track record).

Am I expecting too much, though? I don’t think so. In fact, I don’t believe it’s too much to ask that Virgin Media give me what I’m paying for, or at least something much closer to it than is currently the case.

And where’s the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) when you need them? Lacking bite and teeth from my viewpoint. In truth, I often wonder why they even exist, given some of the clearly exaggerated advertising I’ve seen from some providers as well as the lack of enforcement that occurs when such is pointed out to the ASA.

So what’s the alternative? Should I switch to another ISP? This slow connection is happening far too often as is, and it will only get worse the more services and household gadgets rely on the Internet to function.

*In this case, “free” likely means another line rental increase on the phone service to pay for it all.