Which? claims that almost half of British broadband users experience sluggish speeds

A new survey on British broadband carried out by consumer watchdog Which has criticised UK ISPs for failing to give the speeds and service that they promise customers.

According to the Which survey of 2000 people, no less than 45 per cent of customers said that they suffered slow download speeds – and over half of those said they encountered those sluggish speeds frequently (or indeed constantly).

According to the BBC, Which executive director Richard Lloyd commented: "The Internet is an essential part of modern life, yet millions of us are getting frustratingly slow speeds and having to wait days to get reconnected when things go wrong. It's less superfast broadband, more super-slow service from companies who are expecting people to pay for speeds they may never get."

Ofcom was quick to defend the broadband industry, pointing out that it had already implemented a voluntary code of practice which states that ISPs should provide customers with a written estimate of the range of their expected speeds when they first sign up – and if speeds turn out to be a lot slower than that estimate, customers can exit their broadband contract without penalty.

Which said that the code was a good thing, but should go further and provide a better, more accurate speed estimate (not just a range), and that it shouldn't merely be a voluntary exercise.

Ofcom noted it was currently working on improving and revising the code.

In fairness to Ofcom, when you look at the actual details of the survey, it's no wonder the headline figure of 45 per cent suffering slow downloads came out quite so high – respondents were simply asked whether they had experienced "buffering or slow downloads" when using their Internet connection.

This is a very vaguely phrased point, and of course even the best connections are going to suffer spots of trouble, depending on the way the broadband winds are blowing – we'll all hit a buffering icon on our streaming movie service of choice from time to time. Slow downloads could be the fault of a choked and/or rubbish server, the user's hardware (downloading wirelessly with an old, low quality wireless router for example)... any number of factors aside from the broadband connection.

What is worrying, though, is the fact that half of that group experienced stuttering and sluggish speeds regularly.

And service quality was the other bone of contention, with one in five folks saying they had to contact their ISP three or more times to resolve a problem with their broadband, and a quarter who had experienced their line going down had to wait two days for it to be brought back into action.

Ofcom was also recently accused of exaggerating the UK's broadband progress.