Ofcom wants ISPs to be upfront about broadband speeds

Consumers may be able to get out of their broadband contract if their access speed is "significantly" below the speed they are paying for, communications...

Consumers may be able to get out of their broadband contract if their access speed is "significantly" below the speed they are paying for, communications regulator Ofcom has proposed.

Ofcom's proposal follows a mystery shopping exercise that found most consumers are not informed that they may not get all the bandwidth they pay for.

Ofcom wants consumers to be told this earlier in the sales process. The present voluntary code of conduct allows broadband sales staff to wait until after they have the consumer's bank details or a MAC address.

Ofcom said it would work with internet service providers (ISPs) to agree a consistent and accurate way to establish and present access line speed information and rewrite the code accordingly.

It also wants to ensure that ISPs give consumers better information on how and why actual broadband speeds may be lower than headline speeds.

Some 85% of mystery shoppers were given an estimate of the maximum speed available on their broadband line before signing up, but 42% had to prompt providers. Only one in four was told that their actual speed was likely to be less than the headline speed.

Mystery shoppers found little consistency in how line speeds are measured. "Some ISPs gave the estimate for the maximum line speed in the form of a wide range (such as 10-20Mbps), which could lead customers to expect a much higher speed than they actually receive," Ofcom said.

The regulator expects to be able to agree changes to the code by summer 2010. If appropriate changes cannot be agreed with ISPs, it may consider introducing formal regulations unilaterally.

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