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New guidelines to crack down on unfair broadband practices

New guidelines to crack down on unfair broadband practices

A new set of guidelines set out by Ofcom is aiming to improve services for broadband and pay TV customers by cracking down on a range of unfair tactics currently being practiced by providers.

The new Fairness Framework aims to highlight practices the telecoms regulator deems to be unacceptable and spell out the circumstances where it will step in.

It's all part of Ofcom's new Fairness for Customers programme, which also recently saw all of the UK's biggest broadband and TV providers pledge to a series of steps that will ensure consumers are being offered a fair deal.

The Fairness Framework will go further than this, however, by spelling out the type of practices Ofcom views as unfair and which are likely to lead to regulatory action.

Stamping out unfair practices

Among the practices Ofcom is looking to crack down on is companies that attempt to mislead their customers about the full cost of their services, or practices that take advantage of those who may be less able to choose the best deal for their needs.

To identify such cases, the regulator's consultation paper set out five key questions that it will be considering when determining whether customers are being treated fairly. These are:

  1. How do providers treat customers throughout the customer journey?
  2. Who is being harmed?
  3. What is the extent of the harm?
  4. How important is the service?
  5. Does the service depend on a risky new investment?

It also detailed areas that are likely to cause particular concern. For example, the regulator noted it will be more likely to take action if vulnerable customers are being harmed, if the services are considered essential rather than "nice to have", or if customers are not being supported to make well-informed decisions.

Cutting down on confusion

Ofcom also highlighted that there is a large and varied market for broadband in the UK, meaning customers are experiencing wide variations in how they are treated, while there is also a great deal of confusion about how to ensure people can get the best deal.

For instance, the regulator noted that while some broadband providers charge long-term customers more than new customers, others offer them their best deals, with major savings also available if people sign up to new deals with the same provider.

The organisation is therefore looking to address this by ensuring that every consumer is given information by their provider when they are reaching the end of their contract about what their options are and outlining their best deals.

Outgoing chief executive at Ofcom Sharon White said the fairness programme is already delivering real benefits for customers by ensuring they get fairer deals and have more money in their pockets.

"Everyone should expect to be treated fairly from their provider, but that hasn’t always happened in the past. There is now a real chance to change that," she added.

Ofcom also stressed that its work to improve the environment for broadband and TV customers is far from done, with the regulator set to publish additional targeted measures on fairness in the coming weeks, based on the evidence it has gathered in its recent consultations.

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