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What affects the speed of an internet connection?

13 September 2011

As more people are becoming connected to the internet and the types of internet services continue to increase, the TIO has received numerous complaints about the speed at which people can connect to the internet.

Some people have told the TIO that it is frustrating to have a slow internet connection, especially when they believe the service they signed up for stated that their internet connection speeds would be much faster.

Many of these complaints are about Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line (ADSL), a technology that uses a copper wire network to deliver a broadband service through a line from a telephone exchange to a customer's home.

Due to the factors that affect broadband service speed, an internet service provider (ISP) cannot tell you exactly what speeds you will have when using a broadband service. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has said that when advertising maximum or "up to" speeds, ISPs should, as a matter of good practice, provide consumers with information, including:

  • a prominently displayed summary of factors affecting the delivery of the speed
  • information that the maximum speed claim relates to a maximum speed that only a certain percentage of users can expect to receive
  • complete information about the service – it is not enough to provide details at a later time, such as over the telephone or on a website.

A consumer fact sheet on broadband speeds is available on the ACCC's website.

The TIO can also investigate whether an ISP provided accurate information when advertising or informing potential customers about its connection speeds. However, as many ISPs cannot necessarily control the speeds, the TIO cannot require ISPs to provide a customer with a faster connection. Resolutions for complaints can include better information for consumers, service discounts or credits, or the ending of a contract without penalty so the consumer can find a service that meets their needs.

When you are looking for a new internet service, you should get as much information as possible before signing a contract. This includes reading the entire terms of the contract, and asking the ISP for any clarification you need about what speeds you can expect.

By educating yourself about what affects internet speeds and knowing what to ask your ISP before signing a contract, you will increase the likelihood of contracting for a service which meets your needs.

The speed at which a broadband service is delivered is influenced by a number of factors, such as:

  • the distance from the exchange; this is determined by where the wire goes and not the direct distance between the exchange and the home. The wire is often not directly routed to the home
  • the quality of copper wire between the telephone exchange and the home, and within the home
  • the number of other people using the service at the same time, which can cause congestion on the copper wires
  • the computer equipment used to access the internet, such as the modem.

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Next step?              

  • make an online complaint
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