New Broadband Code Of Practice For ISPs

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Bye bye for “up to” speed claims. New rules surrounding minimum broadband line speeds come into force

The UK communications regulator Ofcom has from 1 March finally introduced new rules designed to remove customer frustrations over broadband line speeds.

The new regulations are part of a number of new protections for customers, most notably that ISPs have to provide both minimum and peak-time speeds, before a customer signs up to a deal.

It comes after research from uSwitch.com at Christmas showed the scale of the issue for many UK households. Its research found that a quarter (26.3 percent) of British homes struggle to achieve the bare minimum broadband speed, with those homes only getting speeds of less than 10Mbps. One in eight (13.3 percent) crawl along below 5Mbps.

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New rules

Ofcom of course states that a modern household requires 10Mbps as the absolute minimum speed, but it believes that its ‘Fairness for Customers’ rules will help remove a lot of frustrations for people before they sign up to a contract.

“The Code means broadband firms will always have to give customers a minimum guaranteed speed at the point of sale,” said the UK regulator. “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.”

Of course, it should be remembered that nearly all broadband packages (except Virgin Media and a few other ISPs) utilise BT’s fibre network, so switching providers may not necessarily improve line speeds.

The new code of conduct does however apply to all ISPs, and BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media have all signed up to the rules.

Ofcom has been seeking to get broadband providers to be upfront with customers about what speeds to expect during peak times (8pm to 10pm at home, 12pm to 2pm for businesses) for a while now.

“When you sign a contract, you should be treated fairly and know exactly what you’re getting,” explained 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,” said Fussell. “And if companies break that promise, they’ll have to sort it out quickly, or let the customer walk away.”

Ofcom said it would keep a close eye on companies’ compliance with these new requirements, and will report on their performance next year.

The new rules also put the onus of ISPs 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.

Expert reaction

One broadband expert welcomed the move but pointed out that the ISPs will still not be able to provide a completely accurate speed assessment for each individual home, just the minimum achievable speed.

“We found from our own research that the majority find broadband advertising to be dishonest and many have felt misled in the past,” said Alex Tofts, broadband expert at Broadband Genie, which has recently carried out research into this area.

“Broadband is a technical product and some of the jargon can confuse the average user,” said Tofts. “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,” Tofts added. “Broadband customers will have a clearer idea of what they’re purchasing, and stronger rights when the service fails to live up to expectations.”

Another expert meanwhile pointed out that consumers will need to informed decisions about their broadband connection, depending on their locations.

“Tomorrow marks the start of a new era for broadband service speed, designed to make contracts more clear and honest,” said Evan Dixon, MD at 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,” said Dixon. “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.”

Full fibre

Broadband line speeds could get a significant boost in the years ahead.

In July last year, the government pledged to ensure that the UK will enjoy “full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033.”

The ambitious plan will see the insistence of full fibre broadband for all new build homes, and a new priority to connect hard-to-reach rural areas.

It comes after the Chancellor Philip Hammond in May 2018 outlined his plan to invest in infrastructure to bolster the post Brexit economy in the years ahead. He pledged then to ensure that most homes and businesses (15 million premises) would by 2025 enjoy the benefits of a “full-fibre” connection.

BT Openreach has already planned to reach 12 million homes by the end of the decade using a combination of fibre to the premise (FTTP) and G.Fast, which speeds up copper connections.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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