The Ofcom Consumer Panel has written to the heads of the major U.K. internet service providers and asked them to address the issue of misleading "up to" internet speed claims.

The letter comes after the consumer rights group Which? carried out a survey of 300 people who had signed up to broadband services advertised as being "up to" 8 Mbps in download speeds. Which? found that the average speed was 2.7 Mbps and the slowest download speed was as little as 0.09Mbps.

There are several factors that affect broadband speeds, two of the more crucial are the number of people using the same connection to the exchange and the distance from the exchange. It is very rare for a user to attain the advertised speeds and the 35% of the population that live more than 3.8km from their telephone exchange cannot possibly achieve speeds greater than 5Mbps. The way in which these speeds are advertised has therefore been questioned. Currently the Advertising Standards Authority guidelines state that the words "up to" can only be used when most customers will get close to those speeds.

The letter from Ofcom seeks the opinions of the providers about how these issues may be addressed in terms of giving clearer information to potential customers. One of their suggestions is an extension on the cooling off period within the contractual terms so that customer can experience the quality and speed of a connection before becoming contractually committed. It also wants them to think about letting customers terminate a contract early and without penalties if speeds are well below what is advertised.

Members of the public, unhappy with the speeds of their broadband connections have been informed by the Advertising Standards Authority that Ofcom is now looking at how this issue could be approached in an effective way.