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Ofcom introduces broadband customer protection

February 28, 2019

By Colin Mann

As part of UK comms regulator Ofcom’s work to ensure Fairness for Customers, broadband shoppers must be told how fast their new service will be, before they sign a contract, under new Ofcom protections from tomorrow (March 1st).

The new Code of Practice means broadband firms will always have to give customers a minimum guaranteed speed at the point of sale. If a customer’s broadband speed then drops below the promised level, companies will have one month to improve performance, before they must let the customer walk away – penalty-free. This right to exit also applies to landline and TV packages bought at the same time as broadband.

Broadband providers must also be upfront with customers about what speeds to expect during peak times. This is because broadband is typically not as fast during the busiest times of the day: 8:00pm – 10:00pm for people online at home, and 12:00pm – 2:00pm for businesses.

The new protections are one part of Ofcom’s Fairness for Customers work, and apply whether people are switching to a new provider or changing their current package.

They cover all the major broadband firms signed up to the new Code – BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, which together serve around 95 per cent of home broadband customers.

“When you sign a contract, you should be treated fairly and know exactly what you’re getting,” stated Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director. “These protections mean broadband shoppers can buy with confidence. Before they sign up, customers will be told their minimum Internet speed. And if companies break that promise, they’ll have to sort it out quickly, or let the customer walk away.”

Ofcom’s latest data reveals that only three in 20 broadband customers contacted their existing provider proactively and renegotiated their deal last year. And with millions of households able to upgrade to faster broadband for the same or less money, people could be missing out on better deals.

Ofcom research also shows that people with a basic, copper broadband connection have less than a one-in-five chance of being able to stream Netflix in ultra-high definition. But if they were to upgrade to entry-level superfast broadband, they would almost certainly be able to do so.

Accordingly, Ofcom is helping people who want to boost their broadband, switch provider or just renegotiate what they pay. People can also find practical tips for improving broadband speeds on its website.

Ofcom will keep a close eye on companies’ compliance with these new requirements, and will report on their performance in 2020.

Ofcom’s work to ensure Fairness for Customers also includes:

  • a major new information campaign and website, Boost Your Broadband, to help people get faster broadband and save money;
  • plans for companies to tell customers about their best available deal when their contracts are coming to an end, and every year after that if they don’t change their deal;
  • reviewing broadband companies’ pricing practices, examining why some customers pay more than others;
  • reviewing how mobile operators charge their customers for handsets when these are bundled with airtime; and
  • introducing a simple text-message process to allow mobile customers to switch provider more easily.

“We found from our own research that the majority find broadband advertising to be dishonest and many have felt misled in the past,” commented Alex Tofts, Broadband Expert at comparison site Broadband Genie. “Broadband is a technical product and some of the jargon can confuse the average user. It certainly doesn’t help that information on speed isn’t accurate to the individual user.”

“But by asking ISPs to provide a minimum speed guaranteed at the point of sale should give consumers more confidence when purchasing a broadband service, and also help reduce complaints. Broadband customers will have a clearer idea of what they’re purchasing, and stronger rights when the service fails to live up to expectations.”

“Tomorrow marks the start of a new era for broadband service speed, designed to make contracts more clear and honest,” noted Evan Dixon, Managing Director, Viasat Europe. “For too long, consumers have had to settle for ‘up to’ marketed speeds rarely met. With so many different types of connections it’s vital consumers can make an informed decision about what exactly they can expect from the broadband service they purchase.  With growing developments like high-definition gaming and streaming video services, consumers will require higher and higher broadband speeds to support these applications.  These rules will ensure that consumers are getting the services they need and provides the clarity for what exactly will be provided to those in urban ‘not-spots’ or remote areas.”

Kate Devine, Head of Home Services at MoneySuperMarket, said: “Ultimately, when it comes to broadband, speed is what matters to consumers, so Ofcom’s decision to introduce a voluntary code of practice for the likes of BT and Sky is a welcome one. It is totally necessary and justified for providers to be transparent with customers regarding the minimum and peak time speeds they’re likely to receive, before they sign on the dotted line.”

“Ofcom is essentially challenging providers to back up claims about speed – and if they can’t do within a month of the contract being signed, it’s perfectly reasonable to give customers the right to switch to another provider without incurring a penalty.”

“Whether it’s a broadband, phone and TV bundle you’re after or an Internet deal only, it’s vital to shop around to find the best package to suit your home and usage. If you’ve been with the same provider for a while and you’re not happy with the speeds you’re getting, now is the time to vote with your feet and switch. There are plenty of competitive deals on the market and you could save hundreds of pounds on your bills.”

Categories: Articles, Business, ISP, Policy, Regulation, Telco