Ofcom proposes ‘Fair Deal’ rules

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Half of British households could switch to faster broadband today, UK comms regulator Ofcom has found, as it announces a range of action to protect loyal broadband customers and help people get a better deal.

Ofcom figures show that 94 per cent of UK homes and offices can now get superfast broadband, but less than half have taken it up.

And many people are paying more than they need to. Around four million households with old-style, basic broadband have passed their initial contract period and could switch to superfast for the same – or less – money than they currently pay.

Accordingly, Ofcom is announcing a range of measures to help people get the best deal.

  1. Clearer information. Ofcom is proposing that, from next year, broadband companies – as well as mobile, landline and pay-TV providers – will have to tell customers about their best available deal, both when their deals are coming to an end, and every year after that if they don’t change their deal.
  2. Reviewing broadband prices. Ofcom is launching a review of broadband companies’ pricing practices – examining why some customers pay more than others, and whether vulnerable customers need extra protections to ensure they get a good deal.
  3. Consumer campaign. A major new information campaign and website, Boost Your Broadband, is being launched today. Backed by consumer champion Gloria Hunniford OBE, the Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and consumer body Which?, the website uses Ofcom data to tell people what broadband they can get in their area, and offers impartial advice on how to find the best deal today.

The broadband market is highly competitive, with superfast broadband packages now available from around £20 a month. But while eight in ten broadband users are happy with their service, Ofcom wants to ensure the market works for everyone.

“We’re concerned that many loyal broadband customers aren’t getting the best deal they could,” commented Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive. “So we’re reviewing broadband pricing practices and ensuring customers get clear, accurate information from their provider about the best deals they offer.”

Under new rules proposed by Ofcom, broadband companies – as well as mobile, landline and pay-TV providers – must alert customers about the best deal or ‘tariff’ they can offer. They must do so when any discounted deal customers are on is coming to an end, and also every year for longstanding customers who have stayed with them.

These measures, which build on proposals announced by Ofcom in July 2018, will help give customers the information they need to save money, which could include shopping around and changing their provider.

In addition to these new customers alerts, Ofcom has also commenced a detailed review of pricing practices in the broadband market.

Ofcom is concerned some customers are paying more than others for similar or worse services, particularly when introductory offers have passed. For example, Ofcom estimates that customers who take a landline and broadband service together are paying an average of 19 per cent more once their discounted deal has expired.

Accordingly, Ofcom’s review will examine how companies change prices for customers over time, and who this most affects. Where it sees evidence of harm, it will act to protect consumers – particularly those who may struggle to engage in the market.

In addition, Ofcom is currently reviewing how mobile operators charge their customers for handsets, when these are bundled with airtime in a single contract, and expects to publish findings in 2019.

Finally, to help people get the best broadband deal for them today, Ofcom has launched Boost Your Broadband, an information campaign and website backed by consumer champion Gloria Hunniford OBE, DCMS, BEIS and consumer body Which?

The campaign aims to demystify the broadband market, particularly for people who might be daunted by the choice on offer.

By following three simple steps at BoostYourBroadband.com, broadband users can check their options, decide what they need and get clear, independent advice on how to go about getting the best broadband deal for them. This is how it works:

  1. Enter your postcode to see what type of broadband – standard, superfast or ultrafast – is available at your address. This checker draws on Ofcom’s latest, authoritative information.
  2. Decide what you need – by seeing what kind of broadband user you are.
  3. Speak to your provider – armed with information on what to ask for, and how to get the best deal. Or shop around to see what deals other providers offer.

Gloria Hunniford OBE, said: “Millions of people could boost their broadband in the run-up to Christmas, when lots of families really need the Internet. So I’m encouraging people to visit the new website, which offers independent advice on how to get the best deal and possibly a faster service from your broadband company, with a single phone call.”

Margot James MP, Digital Minister, said: “Our rollout of superfast broadband is reaching thousands more homes and businesses every week and millions of people across the UK can now enjoy the clear benefits that superfast broadband provides. This is a welcome, positive step by Ofcom and I urge people to visit the website, check what services are available in their local area and then see if they can get a better deal.”

Kelly Tolhurst MP, Consumer Minister, said: “Our consumer protection regime is one of the strongest in the world, but there is always more to do to ensure people know their rights. So I welcome Ofcom’s Boost Your Broadband campaign to help consumers find the best deals. Broadband is a vital service and we want to see people getting a high quality service without paying more than they need to.”

Alex Neill, Managing Director of Home Products and Services at Which?, said: “Our research has shown that many UK households are paying huge loyalty premiums for staying on the same tariff when they could be paying less for a faster internet service. So we’re supporting Ofcom’s campaign to help the nation boost its broadband.

“If you are unhappy with your Internet service, or you think you could be paying too much, you should look to switch provider or try haggling for a better deal. A few minutes of your time could potentially save you hundreds of pounds a year.”

Ofcom is consulting on its revised plans for customer alerts until February 1st. It then expects to publish a final decision as soon as possible, with new rules coming into force during the second half of next year. It will also set out findings from its pricing review in 2019.

Responding to the initiative, Katie Milligan, MD for Customer, Commercial & Propositions at infrastructure provider Openreach said: “More than 17 million homes and businesses could order a better service over our network today, but haven’t yet. That means they’re missing out on more reliable connections that would allow them to work from home more effectively, access entertainment and use multiple smart devices around the house, all at the same time and without interruption.”

“At Openreach, we’re committed to playing our part in upgrading the country onto better broadband. One of the ways we’re doing that is by offering long-term price reductions for our wholesale fibre broadband products, which we hope will encourage providers to upgrade their customers onto the faster, more dependable services we’ve built. We would encourage customers to get in touch with their providers today and discover what might be on offer in their area.”

 


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