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Some 32 ISPs, covering more than 90% of broadband customers, have already agreed "to honour both the letter and the spirit of the code to give consumers a clearer understanding of the speeds they can get, and to ensure that they are on an appropriate broadband package," said Ofcom.
Ofcom is concerned that consumers could be misled or misinformed when choosing their broadband services by ISPs advertising headline speeds that are higher than users can receive in practice.
Ofcom's own research has shown that consumer satisfaction of ISPs has fallen over the last year.
To gain a clearer picture of the issue, Ofcom is also undertaking a comprehensive broadband speed survey, to identify actual broadband performance across the country and its relationship to advertised headline speeds.
Steps that fixed-line ISPs are required to take under the voluntary code include:
- Providing customers at the point of sale with an accurate estimate of the maximum speed that the line can support, whether it is in the shop, over the internet or on the phone
- Resolving technical issues to improve speed and offering customers the choice to move onto a cheaper lower speed package when estimates given are inaccurate
- Ensuring all sales and promotion staff have a proper understanding of the products they are selling, so they can explain to their customers the meaning of the estimates provided at the point of sale
- Providing consumers with information on usage limits and alerting customers when they have breached them
Ofcom has urged all fixed-line ISPs to sign up to the code and to implement it in full within six months of signing.
Ofcom will monitor compliance, including through "mystery shopping" exercises, to determine if ISPs are meeting both the letter and spirit of the code.
If Ofcom finds that this voluntary approach is not effective in addressing the issues covered by the code, it will consider introducing formal regulations.
Separately, Ofcom will consider whether to extend the code or develop another code to cover mobile broadband services.
ISP organisation ISPA said it welcomed the code and pointed out it helped Ofcom draft it. It also stressed a similar code was needed for wireless broadband services offered by mobile operators and other providers.