The results of PC Advisor's annual Home Broadband Survey and the winners of this year's Best Broadband awards – as judged by you.

Another year has drawn to a close and, yet again, it was a 12-month period that promised a lot and didn’t always seem to deliver. At the start of 2010, we were told that the worst of the economic downturn was behind us, a whole new era of government would inject new ideas, and BT Infinity would deliver 21st-century broadband to most of the UK. Meanwhile, those previously stuck in the broadband slow-lane would be given a connectivity boost.

See also: How to get 100Mb broadband

With austerity measures hitting the headlines, and the coalition government backtracking on plans to fund the gap between broadband haves and have-nots, it would be easy to summarise 2010 as a technological write-off.

In many ways, it’s been anything but. BT Infinity installations for fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) broadband were about to hit the accessible-to-four-million-homes landmark by the time we were tuning up for ‘Auld Lang Syne’. The telecoms giant was also preparing to wire up the have-nots of Cornwall with a mixture of FTTC and fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband in early 2011 (for more information, see

BT’s Race To Infinity project came to a close at the end of 2010 – we soon expect to be able to announce which communities successfully made a case for their exchanges to be upgraded to fibre-optic broadband.

And while the planned upgrades to the basic broadband infrastructure apparently stalled for lack of government commitment to the unpopular 50p-per-month broadband tax, it’s still claiming to have earmarked £830m to the project.

Virgin Media, too, continued to investigate how to get fast broadband to rural locations, famously using telegraph poles to carry its cables to parts of Oxfordshire.

For most of us, though, it was a matter of making the best of existing broadband connections. Promised exchange upgrades to local loop unbundling (LLU) have taken longer to effect than was originally predicted. Many readers commented in our Broadband Survey about overdue upgrades; several said that more than a year after their service provider promised it, a speed hike was only now looking likely.

Even so, the results of this year’s annual PC Advisor Home Broadband Survey are largely positive, with thousands of readers expounding the delights of being able to surf the web smoothly and at will, without page-load delays and connection interruptions. Almost all your shopping and associated research seems to be conducted online these days, while online gaming, web-based learning and internet radio are commonplace.
As well as keeping in touch by email, on Facebook, via instant messaging and by chatting over webcams, many survey respondents said BBC iPlayer, YouTube uploads and music-streaming sites are also keeping you entertained. No wonder bandwidth and unlimited monthly downloads have become such a prized commodity. Considering the aspects of your current ISP you’d change, fast, unlimited downloads with no cut-offs (ideally with no traffic shaping) were a common wish.

Here, we look at what else this year’s PC Advisor Home Broadband Survey has revealed, and the conclusions we can reach about ISPs and the services they provide.

Best buy broadband: The customer is always right

After years of decrying ISPs for promising more than they could deliver on the speed front, customers have finally got some muscle in the form of Ofcom. It’s backing a voluntary code of practice that requires ISPs to state realistic connection speeds, to which they can then be held accountable.

These more accurate estimates are intended to give broadband customers greater transparency over what they are buying, and to improve the reputation of the ISPs. An ‘access line speed’ must be given to a potential customer enquiring about a new subscription. This figure must be provided before a migration authorisation code (MAC) is handed over to allow the transfer from one ISP to another.
Ideally, it should be offered at the start of negotiations.

Virgin Media has sought to make itself a hero here, proclaiming its transparency over connection speeds – which is somewhat easier if, like Virgin, you own the infrastructure rather than lease it, and you have an uncontended web service. ADSL broadband shares its bandwidth among multiple users, with resulting peaks and troughs at different times of the day and days of the week.

NEXT: the need for speed >>