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

11|06|15

Background

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

More than eight out of ten of us now have home broadband, 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 consumers the information they need to help them make an informed choice.

As we ask the internet to do more and more for us - such as bringing us TV programmes, movies and games - speed of connection is important to our internet experience, and so it is important that you know what speed performance to expect when you buy a service, and that you can get things put right if speeds fall below these levels.

We therefore want ISPs to give clear and accurate information on home broadband speeds. We’ve asked them to sign up to an updated voluntary Code of Practice on how they present broadband speeds to you. The updated code (version 3.0) will be effective from 1 October 2015, but we want ISPs to make changes to their systems and processes to comply with the requirements of the updated code as soon as possible. In the meantime, consumers are still protected by the provisions of the existing Code of Practice (version 2.0).

The Code applies to home broadband services which come to you through your normal fixed phone line or cable. In signing up to the Code, 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. For these technologies, 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 ask the customer to give their financial details or to pay until they have been told their estimated speed; and
  • give customers speed information in writing, or in a ‘My account’ section on their website within 7 days of the sale.

Every ISP must:

  • explain clearly and simply how other factors may slow down the speed that users get, including making you aware of any ‘fair use’ or ‘traffic management’ policies; and
  • deal sensitively with vulnerable customers.

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.

4. Dealing with speed problems

If a customer is not experiencing the speeds they expected to receive, they should speak to their ISP.

Every ISP commits to providing help with managing speed problems. They must have trustworthy systems to find the cause of a speed problem, take steps to fix any issue that is down to them and explain to customers if they can do something themselves to improve the situation.

In addition, under the revised code, ISPs using technology that means that customers may not get the maximum advertised speed will be required to release customers from their contract at any time if they suffer from speeds below the “minimum guaranteed access line speed” and the problems cannot be resolved. Your ISP will provide information to you on the “minimum guaranteed access line speed”.

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 (called ‘traffic management’ policies).

If they do, the Code says that they should explain their rules clearly when you buy the service, and on their website. They should where possible, help you to measure your usage, and email you details of any penalties for going over your limit.

6. Complying with the Code

Signing up is one thing, but ISPs must then apply the Code in everything they do. Ofcom monitors this by carrying out mystery shopping.

8. Customers and the Code

The ISPs who have signed up to the current Code of Practice (version 2.0) are listed below here LINK.

The revised Code of Practice (version 3.0) will come into operation on 1 October 2015 and there will be a transitional period until 31 January 2016 to allow all ISPs to update their systems and processes before fully implementing the Code. The ISPs who have already said they will sign up to the new code are listed here LINK This list will be updated from time to time.

The existing Code (version 2.0) can be found at: http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/telecoms/codes-of-practice/broadband-speeds-cop/voluntary-codes-of-practice/.

The updated Code (version 3.0) can be found here.

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/.