ISPs 'need Ofcom code of practice' on broadband

Broadband customers should be allowed to switch internet service providers quicker and have a longer cooling off period after signing contracts if they...

Broadband customers should be allowed to switch internet service providers quicker and have a longer cooling off period after signing contracts if they do not get the speeds they pay for, an independent panel has told industry regulator Ofcom.

The announcement comes days after Computer Weekly published its article on the problems businesses have with receiving broadband in rural areas.

The Ofcom Consumer Panel, which advises Ofcom policy on behalf of customers, said that growing complaints from businesses and consumers about not receiving the broadband speeds they pay for made the introduction of the measures necessary.

ISPs currently advertise speeds with the phrase "up to" prefixed before a speed, for example, up to 8mbps. However, technical issues, such as the number of users online at a given time, can mean only a fraction of that speed is delivered.

In a letter to Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards, Colette Bowe, chairman of the Ofcom Consumer Panel, said ISPs should provide information during and after the sales process about the actual speeds, rather than the advertised speeds, customers are likely to receive.

Customers should also be able to move freely to different packages and providers without lock in to contracts where they are not getting the advertised speeds.

"ISPs should contact the customer two weeks after installation about the actual (rather than estimated) maximum line speed that can be supported by their line. At this point customers should have the penalty-free choice to move to another speed package based on the information provided," said Bowe in the letter.

"If the actual maximum line speed is significantly lower than the package to which they have signed up, the customer should also have the penalty free option to terminate the contract and move to another broadband provider."

ISPs have argued to the panel that the cost of acquiring broadband customers is expensive and that they would be reluctant to give customers a longer cooling off period.

Michael Philpott, principal analyst at Ovum, said a price based on the bandwidth actually provided would be fairer.

"Perhaps a more sensible outcome would be for ISPs to recognise that enough is enough and that their customers just do not like the 'up to' concept when it comes to broadband access, and therefore perhaps it is time for a new tariff scheme altogether," he said.

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