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Broadband speeds: A guide for consumers to the new Code of Practice

Background

Ofcom is the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK's communications industries, television, radio, telecommunications and wireless communications services.

One of our jobs is to make sure that healthy competition brings us all a wide choice of services, together with high quality and good value for money.

In the case of broadband, around seven out of ten of us now have this service at home, and that’s a rising trend we’re keen to encourage. At the same time, this popularity makes it all the more important that the broadband companies (the ‘ISPs’, or Internet Service Providers) give their customers full information that they can all understand.

Broadband speeds: what’s the problem?

As we ask the internet to do more and more for us – such as bringing us TV programmes, movies and games – Ofcom has found a rising number of ISPs selling their services by claiming faster and faster broadband speeds.

However, back at home, few people seem to get these speeds on their computers. Ofcom’s own research suggests that the average broadband speed in the UK in April 2009 was 4.1Mbit/s. This was 57 per cent of the average ‘up to’ headline speed of broadband packages (7.1Mbit/s) and 83 per cent of the average maximum speed received (4.9Mbit/s). This can be down to other technical reasons: the size of your ISP’s network, the distance of your home from the phone exchange, your own phone line, the number of other people sharing the service or using the internet at the same time, and so on. But some customers might not understand this: they simply feel that what they’ve been sold doesn’t live up to what they’ve been told.

We therefore want ISPs to give better and more realistic information. We’ve asked them to sign up to a voluntary Code of Practice on how they present broadband speeds to you. An updated list is published is available on a link below.

The Code will apply to home broadband services which come to you through your normal fixed phone line or cable. In signing up to the Code, it means your ISP agrees to provide clear and accurate information.

The eight principles of the Code.

1. Training

ISPs agree to provide full training on how to implement the Code to people selling their broadband services. This includes not just their own people, but any agents or others such as shop staff.

2. Information where broadband is sold

Some ISPs use technology that means customers may not be able to get the maximum advertised speed. If so, these ISPs should:

  • give customers an estimate of the maximum speed they can get;
  • provide a ‘line checker’ on their website that estimates the maximum speed a customer can expect, and make sure this figure is clearly shown;
  • not accept an order until a customer has been told their estimated speed; and
  • give customers speed information in writing, or in a ‘My account’ section on their website or remind the customer to write the estimate down.

Every ISP must:

  • explain clearly and simply how other technical factors may slow down the speed that users get; and
  • avoid abusing the trust of vulnerable customers who may not understand what they’re being told.

3. Up-to-date, accurate information

Information changes, so ISPs must do what they can to ensure that what they display on their line checkers is up-to-date and accurate.

Ofcom will work together with the industry to help make sure that this is the case.

4. Dealing with speed problems

When ISPs use technology that means that customers may not get the maximum advertised speed, they should:

  • have trustworthy systems to find the cause of speed problems when customers report them, and log any faults;
  • give help and advice if customers can do something themselves to improve the situation; and
  • offer an alternative package (if they have one), without any penalties, if the actual speed is a lot lower than their original estimate.

Every ISP must:

  • have trustworthy systems to find the cause of a speed problem; and
  • take steps to fix any issue that is down to them.

5. Giving information on websites

Many ISPs have a ‘fair use’ policy which may mean you can only use your service within certain limits. Others may also take steps to manage the highs and lows of ‘traffic’ on their networks.

If they do, the Code says that they should explain their rules clearly on their website, in an obvious place (such as in ‘Frequently Asked Questions’). They should where possible, help you to measure your usage, and email you details of any penalties for going over your limit.

6. Making things happen

Customers can only benefit from the Code when ISPs follow it properly. We therefore want ISPs to adopt these principles, in full, within six months of signing up.

7. Complying with the Code

Signing up is one thing, but ISPs must then apply the Code in everything they do. We’re going to monitor this by carrying out mystery shopping. When we ask, we also expect ISPs to give us written evidence that they’re following the Code, promptly and fully.

8. Customers and the Code

When they sell to you, ISPs must tell you that they have signed up to the Code, and publish the details on their website. This means that we all have a clear set of standards to judge them by.

The ISPs who have signed up to the Code of Practice are listed below. The Code of Practice came into operation on 5th December 2008.

We will encourage other ISPs to sign the Code. An updated list of ISPs who informed us, at the time the Code of Practice was introduced, that they would like to sign up to it is published here: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/codes-of-practice/broadband-speeds-cop/list-of-isps/.

The full Code can be found at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/codes-of-practice/broadband-speeds-cop/voluntary-codes-of-practice/.

And a list of frequently asked questions about broadband speeds can be found here: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/codes-of-practice/broadband-speeds-cop/faqs/.

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