Ofcom has recently invited internet service providers (ISPs) to sign up to a “voluntary” code in order to regulate how they advertise broadband speeds. Omar Bucchioni reports.
When: June 2008
Law stated as at: 20 June 2008
The communications uber regulator Ofcom has recently “invited” internet service providers (ISPs) to sign up to a voluntary code in order to regulate how they advertise broadband speeds to costumers.
Currently, 57% of UK households have a broadband connection and this figure is expected to increase. As a result of this demand, some ISPs started to advertise their products based on faster and faster headline speeds. However, these speeds are rarely achievable by the consumers that buy them.
Consumers are confused about the disparity between actual (this is the actual speed that a consumer experiences at a particular time when they are connected to the internet) and headline (this is the speed that ISPs use to describe the packages that they offer to consumers) speeds advertised which is far below their expectations (i.e. why if they buy an “up to” 8Mbit/s package, they’re unlikely to ever get much better than 4Mbit/s?).
As explained at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/ioi/copbb/bbfaqs/ there are a number of reasons why you may not receive the broadband connection speed advertised by ISPs:
(a) the maximum speed available declines the further you are from the telephone exchange;
(b) quality of the customer’s line;
(c) the capacity of the ISP’s network;
(d) the number of subscribers sharing the network; and
(e) the number of people accessing a particular website.
Ofcom wants ISPs to improve the information on the speeds they can expect to obtain from their broadband service they provide to consumers both (i) before they sign up to a service and (ii) after they have had the opportunity to use the service.
Ofcom is also working hard to find a means by which this information can be supplemented by additional information, including on the average throughput speeds obtained through different ISPs, since these speeds are likely to vary for a number of reasons. If appropriate, the Code will be revised as a result of such further work.
The voluntary Code of Practice
The voluntary Code of Practice requires the ISPs to provide consumers with more information and advice on the maximum broadband speed they can individually expect to achieve and to help ensure that they choose the package that is the most appropriate for each of them in light of their individual circumstances and needs.
As described at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/ioi/copbb/consumerguide/ the Code requires ISPs to:
(a) provide customers with an accurate estimate of maximum line speed at the point of sale, whether it is in the shop, over the internet or on the phone;
(b) resolve technical issues to improve speed and offer customers the choice to move onto a lower speed package when estimates given are inaccurate;
(c) 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
(d) provide consumers with information on usage limits and alert customers when they have breached them.
How to sign up
Further information is available at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/ioi/copbb/copbb/ and for a full print version of the Code is also available at Ofcom’s website: http://www.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/ioi/copbb/copbb/copbb.pdf
Why this matters:
Ofcom has made public that is also instigating a comprehensive broadband speed survey to identify actual broadband performance across the country and its variation from advertised headline speeds and maximum line speeds. Ofcom will encourage ISPs who have not yet signed the Code to do so or to adopt the same or similar measures, and we will work with all ISPs to increase the overall standard of information offered to consumers so that they can make informed choices in the broadband market. In addition to that, ISPs must be aware that Ofcom will consider formal regulation if this doesn’t solve the problem.
Mobile operators not immune
Moreover, mobile operators should also be aware that Ofcom will be urgently seeking to engage with them to consider whether to include mobile broadband in the code or alternatively to develop a separate code, or if other measures are needed.