Broadband providers’ customer support departments are complying with Ofcom’s call for improved transparency over actual broadband speeds, but have yet to fully meet some facets of the regulator’s code of conduct.
The telecommunications watchdog introduced the voluntary code of Practice on Broadband Speeds in December 2008 to encourage home broadband suppliers to be more open about speeds available to customers.
Among the stipulations are that telephone representatives give an accurate estimate of the speeds that a customer can reasonably expect should they sign up for a broadband package with a supplier.
However, a mystery shopper survey conducted by Ofcom late last year found that although compliance in some aspects is encouraging, some facets of the code are not being as keenly observed.
Of the mystery shoppers some 85 per cent were provided with an estimate of the maximum speed they would be able to get. Meanwhile, 42 per cent of the sample were only provided with the information after prompting their customer service representative towards the end of their call.
The review of broadband suppliers also found disparities between the estimated speed provided to customers and those shown by the BT Wholesale line checker. In over 50 per cent of cases the gap between the two was more than 1Mb.
To address the problem, Ofcom is set to tighten up the code. Changes are set to include a new clause to encourage internet service providers to adopt a universal method of measuring speeds. Also being mooted is a further regulation that would allow disgruntled customers to terminate their contract in the event that the speed they receive is significantly below the estimate they were given when they signed up.
In the event that levels of transparency do not improve within a year, the code of conduct could become mandatory. In turn, this would clear the way for fines for non-compliance.
Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said: "Consumers are now receiving more accurate information at the point of sale about their broadband service.
‘But our mystery shopping research reveals there is still significant further progress to be made, particularly in relation to the checkers used to calculate line speeds.
‘We will work with the internet service providers to ensure consumers receive the best quality information and amend the existing Code accordingly. We will continue to monitor and assess performance against the Code in the coming months.”
Moves to improve transparency in the broadband sector comes after sustained controversy over over the use of the caveat ‘up to’ in advertising for broadband services. Some consumer groups consider the phrase misleading and argue that it gives a false impression to potential subscribers.
Alex Buttle, Marketing Director at Top 10 Broadband, said: “It’s encouraging that huge progress has been made to provide Britons with clear information over their actual broadband speeds.
“Ofcom’s study shows there is still some work to be done. However, the massive improvement in MAC code provision on the part of ISPs that we have seen in the last few years suggests that we’ll see a similar upswing in transparency over speeds in months to come.”