Martin Hickman: Tired of waiting for the web? Here's what to do

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This survey confirms what millions of householders have suspected – and other smaller, commercial surveys have suggested: that millions of broadband customers are being ripped off. Few of the UK's 17.6 million homes with broadband receive anything like the headline speed caveated with the weasel words "up to".

Simpler still, none of the 57 per cent of customers buying "up to 8 Mbit/s" packages – 9.8 million people – get that 8 Mbit/s. Compared with the quick, quick, quick of the direct debit leaving your account, the service arriving is slow, slow, slow. This will become increasingly irritating as web-users download more music, TV and films.

Of course, Ofcom is right that it isn't all the ISPs' fault: the distance between exchange and home is the crucial factor and poor hardware and connections on the home computer can slow things down too. But there are significant differences between ISPs for 8 Mbit/s services. 02's upper average was 5.1 Mbit/s while Tiscali managed a miserable 3.7. What can you do? If you're buying a new service, firms signed up to the code of conduct should advise you of the likely speed obtainable in your home, rather than the notional national speed.

The vast majority of providers subscribe to the code, so if your new firm doesn't, you might want to find one that does.

Existing subscribers can check download speeds at internet services such as broadbandspeedchecker.co.uk. If you are receiving much less than you are paying for, but don't mind about the speed, ask the ISP if it will downgrade your headline rate to something more accurate. Alternatively, if you would like faster downloads, you may be able to get a free upgrade, especially if you have been on a rate for a while. My wife did this for our old connection and Virgin Media obliged immediately.

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