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ISPs sign up to Ofcom Code on broadband speeds

A Code of Practice to ensure that internet service providers (ISPs) offer greater clarity over customers’ broadband line speeds was published by Ofcom today. The Code does not require the disclosure of average speeds, but Ofcom said that might change.05 Jun 2008

Some 32 ISPs, covering over 90% of broadband customers, have already agreed to honour both the letter and the spirit of the Code to give consumers a clearer understanding of the speeds they can get. Signatories include BT Total Broadband, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, Tiscali and AOL Broadband.

Ofcom is concerned that consumers could be misled or misinformed when choosing their broadband services by ISPs advertising headline speeds that are higher than users can receive in practice. Ofcom’s own research has shown that consumer satisfaction of ISPs has fallen over the last year.

Under the new voluntary Code of Practice, fixed-line ISPs are required to take four steps:

  1. provide customers at the point of sale with an accurate estimate of the maximum speed that the line can support, whether it is in the shop, over the internet or on the phone;
  2. resolve technical issues to improve speed and offer customers the choice to move onto a lower speed package when estimates given are inaccurate;
  3. ensure all sales and promotion staff have a proper understanding of the products they are selling so they can explain to their customers the meaning of the estimates provided at the point of sale; and
  4. provide consumers with information on usage limits and alerting customers when they have breached them.

An ISP does not need to tell a consumer its customers' average connection speed under the Code. But the regulator is also undertaking a broadband speed survey to identify actual broadband performance across the country and its relationship to advertised headline speeds. An Ofcom spokeswoman told OUT-LAW that the Code might be amended after that exercise to ensure that consumers are given a useful indication of what speed they can expect to receive.

Ofcom is urging all fixed-line ISPs to sign up to this Code and to implement it in full within six months of signing.

Ofcom will monitor compliance, including through mystery shopping exercises, to determine if ISPs are meeting both the letter and spirit of the Code. If Ofcom finds that this voluntary approach is not effective in addressing the issues covered by the Code, it will consider introducing formal regulations, it said.

Separately, Ofcom will consider whether to extend the Code or develop another Code to cover mobile broadband services.