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It May Take Up To 10,000 Years Before We Finally Get Rid Of 'Up To' Language In Broadband Marketing

from the up-to-something... dept

It’s been nearly a decade since we first started calling out various broadband providers for hyping up their connections speeds using “up to” language, where they say you may get speeds “up to” X Mbps. Up to is the ultimate weasel phrase, because you never have to get anywhere near it, and can actually be well under it, and still be “accurate.” Every so often federal regulators jump into the debate — warning companies about this practice. At least a few broadband providers (especially in the US) have started to move away from using “up to” marketing. But it still is rare to see regulators actually go after anyone for making such misleading claims. Broadband Reports points out that UK telco regulator Ofcom seems to come out with a report every single year at this time promising that it’s about to crack down on “up to” marketing, but never actually doing so. At some point, companies realize that the threats about “up to” language are about as accurate as the “up to” claims themselves.

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Comments on “It May Take Up To 10,000 Years Before We Finally Get Rid Of 'Up To' Language In Broadband Marketing”

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Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, a far better analogy is that the ISP is selling you the road, not the car.

The road has a certain capacity, a certain quality of infrastructure, and has a speed limit (the up to speed).

If the road gets congested with too many users…guess what happens to speed. If the road is under repair, guess what happens to speed. If the road operator lets it fall into disrepair, guess what happens to speed.

Doesn’t matter what kind of Lamborghini you buy (or a tremendously fast PC and modem), the road will limit your speed with maxima, traffic, and conditions.

Berenerd (profile) says:

Re: Re:

My car can get up to 75MPH..down hill with a strong tail speed. “Xfinity” tells me the package I bought (and have since changed back to the slower speeds) I could get “up to” 10MB download speeds. During off hour times when the net is “quietest” I was lucky if I got 1MB download speeds. After 8 months and them telling me everything is fine I told them I am going back to the extreme basic at least then I am getting close to the 1MB down speed IT promises.

cyberdoyle (profile) says:

Re: top speed

If you advertise a car with a top speed then that is the speed the car can do, on a straight race track.
The top speed of many people’s broadband connection is less than half a meg. They still have to pay for the ‘up to 24meg’ or ‘up to 8meg’ service at full price. I think that people should be charged for the speed they get. Or the data they use. Or both? Its a utility now ffs, shouldn’t we be priced in the same way as other utilities? We are fast learning that the cheapest ISP is often the worst. We must expect to get what we pay for.

Griffalo (profile) says:

This one’s a bit of a prisoner’s dilemma – what you really want is a “minimum of…” promise – which guarantees at least a certain amount of service and gives users some recourse if it isn’t delivered.

The issue is that if you’re going to get providers to do this you’d have to get them ALL to do it. It’ll be much harder to convince a lone provider to advertise their service with a minimum number which will inevitably be much lower and less impressive than the huge (and frequently unrealistic) numbers other providers throw about in their advertising.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, they all should be mandated to advertise, and provide, a minimum service. This “up to” language is simply a ploy to sell more subscriptions. They can effectively oversell their service because they haven’t promised any minimum speed. The more customers that ISP has, the slower your service will be, all because they falsely promised you a Corvette, when, in reality, you’re getting a Pinto. It’s false and misleading advertising meant to maximize the customer base without carrying the cost of maintaining that base at the perceived level of service. If the grocery store advertised “up to” one gallon of milk for $1.99, people would throw a fit when they really got $0.50 worth of milk.

The conflict of this is, if the ISP has only 10Gbps of bandwidth and sells it in 10Mbps chunks, then they can only service 1024 customers at peak usage. Personally, I think that’s just reality and they should live with it. You can’t sell a scarce good as if it is infinite. All you end up doing is making each share of it smaller for those that paid for more than you’re giving.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I don’t think we should force them to advertise a guaranteed minimum speed, because that can be a lot more expensive to deliver. I don’t want to pay a whole bunch more for my internet service just to be sure I never drop below 1Mbps, or whatever.

It could also get really complicated. You might have an absolute floor speed, and zero or more other thresholds you’re guaranteed to be at or above for a certain percentage of the time, or during certain times of the day. Customer confusion.

I would not mind if they’re forbidden from making deceptive “up to” claims, and from there just let them compete* how they will.

* obviously ensuring robust competition would solve a whole bunch of this right away without any other regulations

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:


I think Subway could make a killing with “up to” advertising. Just imagine, “Up to 65 inches of sandwich for only $15.95!!!”

Of course actual sandwich length will vary based on current store conditions; like whatever length bread sandwich artists currently have on hand and how many people are in line. Customers may experience sandwich length variance from 1 to 65 inches, as well as periodic sandwich downtime. But as long as they don’t make a sub longer than 65 inches, they’re in the clear!

hangman says:

'up to'

“simple” solution—get our wussy/bought off government officials to throw a good dozen or so of these career criminals(and their board’s of directors!!! AND their legal staff AND their ad-copy agencies) into jail(for interstate fraud, if nothing else) for a decade or 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

sort of sends the right message–know what I mean???

like my current contract with verizon(which I am out of at the very 1st opportunity–I’m marking off the days on my calendar!)”’the 25/25 speed level is an “up to” that runs about 1/5 of that(on a really good day)…such that
IF it works at all, then they are ‘in compliance’!!!!!! America….gotta love it when the government officials openly aid/abet the corporate criminals(and get by with it forever) …..anyone remember ‘OF the people, BY[NOT buy] the people, FOR the people’?????

Rabbit80 says:

To be fair...

It’s not really the fault of the ISPs. The problem is simply that our telephone infrastructure was not designed to carry high speed broadband signals. Much of the network is 40+ year old copper wiring – some of it is aluminium. BT would rather pocket their profits and not upgrade the network.

Also – the majority of ISPs here will give you an estimated line speed before you sign up to any contract. These are estimates based on the length of the line from the exchange, the age and condition of the wires and speeds achieved by neighbours etc. These estimates are usually pretty accurate.

For example – the package I am on is advertised as “Up to 24 Mbps”, When signing up for it I was told that I would likely only get around 7 Mbps and in reality, my speed varies from 7 Mbps on an evening at peak times to around 12 Mbps at 6am on a Sunday. Regardless of ISP, these are the maximum speeds that my line can achieve. There is no option for either cable or fiber in my area.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: To be fair...

This sounds unusual. I’m looking at my Comcast bill right now have have no idea whether I’m getting “Limited Basic” or “Performance High Speed” Internet; they’re both listed under the bundled services. And no, I can’t look it up by the amount charged because they don’t charge the prices listed on their website. Basically they don’t want me to know what I’m supposed to be getting or what I’m supposed to be paying, to say nothing of advertised vs actual connection speeds.

Rabbit80 says:

Re: Re: To be fair...

The ISP I use puts everyone on the “Up to 24Mbps” package – ISPs here are usually more concerned with how much data you transfer over the course of the month. In my case – I have downloaded over 70Gb in the past 2 days – thats double the monthly allowance of some other ISPs and considerably more than the standard package my ISP offers (Which is still “up to 24Mbps”)

The biggest concern for most consumers here is the monthly allowance – Most ISPs, even on their “Unlimited” packages still have a “Fair use policy” in place which limits the consumer to around 40Gb per month. Most ISPs even refuse to admit what their limit is so it is possible to be kicked off the internet for breaching the FUP with no way of knowing you were downloading too much. For example – my previous ISP phoned me and told me that I was downloading too much – I hit 320Gb in a month. They stated that they wanted me to reduce my usage significantly but refused to tell me how much by or how much I was allowed to use. The following month I used just 70Gb of data and they termintaed my contract for breach of their FUP.

As for the line speed varying so much – I asked them to lower my target SNR from 12dB to 9dB. This makes the line much less stable but gives me an extra 2-3Mbps during the off-peak times.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: To be fair...

It’s because if they set up your service to be 12 instead of 24, the degradation down the line would bring it down even further. They won’t give you the potential for 24 just because you can only do 12 at best and charge you based on what you get rather than what they are pretending to sell to you. It’s stupid. I know.

hmm (profile) says:

Simple answer:
Have them post more than ONE single misleading stat…
UPTO: xxx speed
Network average: xxx speed
average % of custs max speed actually obtained: xxxx speed
average downtime / month : xxx mins
this would give much clearer info:
upto: 20mb
network average: 10mb
average % of cust max speed: 90
average downtime: 5mins
this would mean the package is a max of 20mb, the average speed across the network is 10mb..and for most of the time custs get at least 90% of this, and across the network the average customers gets only 5mins of downtime per month….

PhilT says:

up to is a regulatory requirement in UK

“up to” is *required* on UK advertising by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA, it isn’t an invention of the ISPs and ISPs have been made to add it or increase its clarity in copy.

OFCOM made an input to a recent ASA consultation, but it’s not their remit to regulate advertising.

Unfortunately their decision to talk about advertising probably buried some useful analysis of network performance.

RobertH (profile) says:

What gets me is we (Customers) are their bread and butter, but are treated like the scum of the earth. Just look at their rules and regulations. We have no right to object to anything they choose to do to us. I as an xmember of the Hughesnet family have spent countless hours on the phone with customer support (there’s an oxymoron in there somewhere) dealing with slower than stated speeds and days of outages. If you ask to be let out of your contract because they can’t provide the services that were promised at signup you’re told sure for $300 we will be happy to let you out. The question here is, when do we get a fair shake in dealing with phone, internet, electric, etc… providers.

Anonymous Coward says:

The issue is that “up to” is actually correct.

The first jump on their network (your modem to their central office) is speed limited by design or by choice. If your on a 5M down, 1M up connection, you have speeds up to 5M. If the rest of their network can’t support it, that is a different issue. But that very first connection is at that speed.

Now, with DSL or ADSL, you have drop off over distance for the modem to CO connection. However, most companies will “tune up” the connection to try to get the best possible. But if you are not in the “service distance” from a CO, you are in trouble.

It is legal, it is valid, and it is correct. It is the only sort of language that allows them to market the connection speed without being specifically pinning to provide it to everyone regardless of technical limitations.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, they are trying to sell you an imaginary maximum speed and pretending that it is the norm. What they should be doing is offering a minimum of service. “With our DSL service, you can get up to a 10Mbps connection. Minimum service is established on a per-case basis and charged appropriately to maximum achievable speed.” They test your lines and determine your maximum possible speed. Based on that information, they offer your a list of available levels of minimum service. “Based on your line test, we have determined that you have a maximum potential speed of 5Mbps. The highest minimum speed we can offer you is 3Mpbs (this accounts for degradation due to distance from the local node and line noise). This service is available for $39.99 a month. At peak hours, this is the minimum speed we can provide to you.”

Now people can get service without paying for what they are not getting and be promised a certain minimum level of acceptable service. People might get faster than the minimum, but anything faster than their minimum service speed is not guaranteed. If they saturate their network, the worst you can do in this instance is 3Mbps.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“as little as 1kb connection!”

I can see that as being a good selling point. Technically, there is no “minimum service” because this is the internet. Your local peering points suffers and outage, and suddenly everyone in your city is going through a single small backup line, and you are getting 1 byte a second. Is that the minimum they should advertise? After all, it isn’t in their control.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

You’re just taking the worst case scenario and using it in an attempt to invalidate my point. Acts of nature are not my problem as the consumer. If they have an outage, I expect to be inconvenienced, but I can plan around that outage. I don’t get pissed off when the power goes out because I reasonably understand that shit happens. But for the majority of the time when things are going as designed, I expect a reasonable minimum of service. This is a service deal, not “Let’s Make a Deal” where you can trade your money for anything from a new car to a goat.

Greevar (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Oh for crying out loud, you’re just going to keep nit picking anything you can just to invalidate my point. Like I said before, shit happens, but what you’re referring to is the worst case scenario and isn’t the norm. For the majority of the time they can easily maintain this level of service. So stop focusing on the tree moss and pay attention to the forest. Enough with the “what if?” business. What if the world blew up tomorrow? If that happens, nobody anywhere will have any internet because we will cease to exist!

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The highest minimum speed we can offer you is 3Mpbs (this accounts for degradation due to distance from the local node and line noise). This service is available for $39.99 a month.

That sounds nice, but I’m really skeptical (as I mentioned before). $40 would be about the current price for something like up to 8Mbit, right? I am guessing “at least 3 Mbps” would be way, way more than that. If there were meaningful consequences for the ISP failing to meet the guaranteed speed, I wouldn’t be surprised if you would pay $60 a month or more for “at least 512 Kbps”.

Does anyone have info handy about the cost of business internet plans with guaranteed quality of service? Because that’s basically what you’re talking about.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Besides that, people aren’t going to willingly drop $60 a month for 512Kbps on what supposedly granted them “up to” 10Mbps before.

Yeah, that’s my point. They won’t do it willingly, but they wouldn’t have a choice (unless they want to give up internet service). If we force ISPs to deliver a guaranteed level of service, people’s internet bills are going to way up, and most of them are probably not going to get much value for it.

I know I don’t get the “up to 8 Mbps” I’m offered, but my service is fast enough. I don’t want to pay a lot more to avoid an occasional slowdown, and I doubt very many others do either.

hmm (profile) says:

Just mandate that whatever the package/speed it applies upto the legal instant that the data leaves your ISPs control and goes into the big bad world….as long as theyve done everything they can on THEIR systems…they can’t do more.
BUT provide a way for a customer to complain about the section of network just beyond their own ISP, no compensation but nice to be able to contact people who control the other parts of the net…..

David says:


If they’re involved, I suspect nothing will come of it. I have little faith in them, as I have lodged what I consider to be perfectly legitimate complaints over the years and never had a satisfactory answer – just a load of waffle. I have their news bulletins and I get the impression of a load of elderly port-swilling grey-haired gents sitting around a table wondering what regulations to cook up next. An extremely dry read, I would say!

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

In Defense of "Up To"

The reason these ISPs use “up to” terminology is based in technology, as are their networks.

Each networking protocol (DSL, vDSL, DOCSIS2, Ethernet, etc) has a theoretical fastest speed at which it can communicate under perfect conditions. These are the speeds the engineers at the IEEE and such standards groups define as the maximum the protocol can theoretically handle using the best hardware of the day. In a lab, these speeds can be demonstrated and reproduced. This becomes the “up to” speed, because in a perfect situation, you could achieve it.

Now, move that to the real world. There are dozens of unpredictable problems that can reduce YOUR speed from the up to speed. Distance to the ISP’s node is the most common. But also:
– contention from other users
– dropped packets
– upstream network congestion
– line noise
– interference from other radiation
– bad terminal (your) equipment
– bad or node equipment (modem or DSLAM)

Anyhow, there is NO FREAKING WAY an ISP can make a marketing claim to offer a particular speed in a TV or print ad. The cannot know what the actual bandwidth will be to your home until it’s hooked up and running. It is a ‘best effort’ service, and sold a such. The only honest way to represent it is with an “up to”.

Yes, you would have to live 10 meters from their CO (node), and use top grade equipment with a Faraday cage built around it to reach the “up to” speed. But that is the only concrete speed the technology allows anyone to define.

Now, you here may all argue for required publication of “average speeds” and “minimum speeds”. Here’s the scoop on that:

Average speeds: Yeah. The ISPs should be forced to tell you what speed the average user actually gets. This is more useful to the consumer than the theoretical “up to” speeds that the technologists define. To me, this would be like the Schumer Box that credit card companies must publish http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schumer_box. OTOH, that’s what http://www.broadbandreports.com already does, and even helps you compare the ISPs available to you.

Minimum Speeds: A guaranteed minimum speed is something that IS available. You just need to subscribe to a business broadband line, starting around $150/mo. But for consumer-grade broadband, ‘best effort’ service is pretty much what to expect worldwide (even in those EU markets where there is lots of competition).

The only way to sell consumer broadband is to do statistical modelling of how much traffic each subscriber is likely to consume, and to plan capacity such that they share a pipe affordably. This is the same as the calculations used to plan how big to make roads or water main pipes. Since it is a shared resource, it is likely that at some times, it will be congested and you will get slow speeds. Therefore, no ISP wants to guarantee a minimum speed in their relatively low-price consumer plans. Similarly, no government will guarantee you a minimum speed is achievable on their freeway because there might be congestion, even on toll roads. Your speed is best effort, with a maximum.

Listen, I’m no apologist. ISPs and big telcos want your money, and have a lot of tricks up their sleeves to get it. However, the “up to” speed is simply driven by the technology, and it is obvious why the industry uses it, and it is useful so long as you understand it. It should stay. If you want to force ISPs to add “average speed”, I’m with you. That would be useful, too.

nasch (profile) says:

In Defense of "Up To"

Did you even read the tirade I wrote?

No, I just randomly clicked the “reply to this” link on something I didn’t read.

The average speed would be just as “deceptive”. Neither can be promised to apply to an individual user.

But you might actually acheive the average speed (or even faster). You will never acheive the maximum speed. I would say advertising a speed they know you will not get is more deceptive than advertising one that you could meet or exceed.

If people understood the “up to” number, which I think they do, after years of not reaching it, then it is useful, as is the average.

I suspect most people think it might be possible to actually hit the max speed. However, I didn’t say it’s useless.

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