Commercial Broadband Offers

I live in a rural village.  It's what my old Geography teacher called a 'linear development' - houses built along a High Street.  If you continue along the High Street for a couple of miles, you come to another village.  This one has a telephone exchange.

The broadband in our village is poor.  Quite a few people work from home and find it difficult to function with the service they are getting.  Recently, one of them tried to get people interested in a campaign to improve services.

He began by asking folk to report the broadband speeds they were getting in their homes.  It was quite easy.  There are loads of broadband speed testers on the internet.  You just find one and run a simple test.  I tried it myself.  I found that the speed varied a lot.  The best download speed I got was 1.8 Mbps and the worst 0.7Mbps.  It depended upon the time of day, with early evenings clearly the worst.  It means I can sometimes watch videos of the cricket highlights and sometimes not.  I reported these speeds to my neighbour.

When the village newsletter came out, the results were shown.  The best recorded speed was 3.4Mbs and the worst, a mere 0.4 Mbps.  There was a definite pattern.  The best figures came from houses at the end nearest the next village.  They got worse as you moved down the High Street.

Were there other variables?  The list of providers was pretty long: BT, AOL, Talk Talk, Tiscali etc but we all use BT infrastructure, so there was no difference between them.  Different service levels perhaps?  Not so, we all subscribe to the "up to 8 Mbps" service.

So that's it.  No-one gets anything like the 8 Mbps we pay for.  Performance degrades as you move down the High Street and away from the BT exchange.  The BT lines are shared so busy times are the worst.

This led me to think about broadband marketing and how these suppliers get away with their unrealistic claims of performance.

Commercial suppliers know about the cuts in capital grant to schools and appear to have no qualms about trying to take advantage of this funding shortage to attempt to break up the national education network.  We have been told of quite a few recently so I thought I should look at some of their claims.

How about, "We are offering savings of up to 70% when compared to a typical service*" (Note the *).  When I finally found the starred reference among the footers it said, "comparison made between a copper symmetric service and an equivalent fibre symmetric service".

So this offer really says, "We are offering savings of up to 70% by ripping out a dedicated fibre connection that cost a fortune to install and replacing it with a cheaper copper connection that probably won't deliver more than 40% of the expected bandwidth and might only deliver 0.05%."

Or this one, "We believe your telephone exchange is already enabled for our new Internet service"?  This means, "Someone else has already spent money upgrading your local exchange so that any provider can supply and brand a 'broadband service'."Finally, what about, "Up to 10 Mbps from £3,861.  Get a quote now!"

This means, "The most you might get is 10 Mbps but only if your school is next door to the BT Exchange.  And we don't know how much we'll charge but the lowest possible is £3,861 so you might be lucky!"

If you do ask for a quote, you are unlikely to match these terms but to be honest; these suppliers don't much care about those they can't help.  If yours is one of the lucky ones, remember, these organisations have no interest in supporting smaller, rural schools or upholding the funding agreements made by your schools forum, or the community of schools and educational resources that is the national education network.  They are simply commercial organisations re-focusing on schools because they know that local authorities are facing severe cuts and think schools have the money.