Are you really living in a broadband ghetto?

Barry Collins reveals the flaws in Britain’s broadband speed league tables

A snail on a laptop next to network cable

Rotten luck, Ryedale. Poor old Purbeck. Rother's in a bother. At least that's what you'd think if you read the latest report from consumer watchdog Which, which identifies the rotten boroughs of Broadband Britain.

Ryedale, Purbeck and Rother were among the 20 local authorities named and very much shamed by Which the latest in a string in of such headline-grabbing reports. Last year, for example, it was the aptly named village of Miserden in Gloucestershire that was outed as the poorest place for broadband by Cable.co.uk, racking up an average speed of only 1.3Mbps slower than base camp at Everest! The utter peasants.

The problem with all these reports is that they're complete rubbish. And I'll explain why. Almost all of them are based on results collected by broadband speed-test sites. In Which's case, the results came from a firm called Speed Checker Ltd and, in Which's defence, they collected an awful lot of them 719,000 speed tests between January and March this year, to be precise.

I'm sure you're familiar with such speed-test sites: you click a button on the site, it spends a minute or two downloading and uploading test files to measure the speed of your connection and spits out the results. These sites are very useful for testing whether you're getting the speed your broadband provider claims you should be getting, but they're utterly hopeless for gauging the speed of an entire district.

Why? Because they don't measure the maximum possible speed of your line, they measure how fast your current connection is. Here at home, for example, I upgraded to BT's top-grade Infinity broadband a couple of years ago and generally achieve somewhere between 60-70Mbps for downloads a speed that's roughly twice as fast as the median download speed recorded in Which's fastest area, Tamworth in the West Midlands.

If I hadn't bothered to upgrade, however, and had stuck with ADSL like the people next door my average download speed on such sites would be around 4Mbps, which is slower than the median speed of the Orkney Islands, Which's newly Christened 'village ofthe damned'.

Unless these surveys take a properly representative sample from each area, the results are almost meaningless.

They don't tell you how fast an area is; they tell you the median speed of a bunch of people on a random assortment of tariffs in that area. What's more, the type of people who tend to visit speed-checker sites are either people suffering from terrible speeds or braggarts like me who want the satisfaction of seeing the speedometer shoot up on their fibre connection. The sample's about as representative as only polling people called 'Nigel Farage' ahead of an election.

So if you were thinking of retiring to Ryedale, but have been put off by Which's damning verdict don't be. Get an accurate read of the exact speeds a property is expected to reach by punching its telephone number into www.dslchecker.bt.com. You'll get a precise and rather technical breakdown of exactly the speed the line is capable of achieving, not a piece of over-extrapolated guesswork.

If you live in Tamworth, stick 5,000 on your property price and hope your buyers don't read this.

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