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Thursday, 5 June 2008

Broadband Speed

Whichever way you look at it, broadband internet connections are a massive step forward. But not all broadband connections are created equal.

Broadband speeds are normally advertised as being "up to" a certain speed. However, that "up to" speed is only under ideal conditions. The speed of a broadband connection is often limited by your distance from the telephone exchange - the further away you live, the slower your connection will be. This can mean that people subscribe to an internet connection that turns out to be much slower than they expected.

Today Ofcom published a voluntary code for internet providers so that the advertised speed more accurately reflects the speed a customer could expect (based on their distance from the exchange).

But there is another problem which can limit broadband speeds - the capacity of the whole broadband network. Like the road network, broadband networks have a limited capacity. If everyone tries to use them at the same time, in the same place, they can grind to a halt.

Internet traffic has increased hugely in recent months. As people watch more television and use more complicated website online, the networks can get congested. The only solution is that internet providers must invest more in their network infrastructure to improve capacity.

Ultimately these costs will have to be passed on to the consumer. It's right that those who use the internet heavily should pay more than those who only do a little "light surfing".

I very much welcome Ofcom's new move. But in the future it might also be necessary to more accurately label the type of broadband connections that are sold.

People are using the internet for many different purposes. Someone who watches hours of TV online will need a more heavy duty internet connection than someone who just checks their emails a couple of times a week. It's only fair that the costs are fairly passed on to the heaviest users. We must make sure that customers are sold the broadband connection they need, not necessarily the most expensive product.

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