The Ofcom Consumer Panel which provides independent representation of consumer interests in the communications market has asked Ofcom to produce a mandatory code of practice for broadband service providers in relation to advertising of broadband connection speeds. The issue of advertised broadband speeds has been controversial within the DSL marketplace since the speed available to users can vary dramatically depending on the quality of their telephone line, which is mainly governed by distance from their local telephone exchange. The longer the distance, the lower the quality of the signal and thus the slower the potential broadband service that can be provided over the line.
"We would like to see Ofcom leading discussions with industry to produce an enforceable code of practice that would be mandatory for ISPs. This code would establish agreed processes to give the customer the best information during and after the sales process, and to give them flexibility to move freely to different packages that reflect the actual speeds with which their ISPs are able to provide them."Letter from Colette Bowe, Chairman of the Ofcom Consumer Panel
One of the suggestions is that service providers should be able to advise users during the ordering process what their expected maximum speed would be as well as what factors can affect line speed. It is also suggested that ISPs should contact users a fortnight after installation to confirm the actual line speed, tackling the problem of user awareness.
Most controversially from a service provider point of view, they suggest that if the actual speed is far below the expected speed, consumers should be able to terminate or move without penalty. This is likely to be of concern to service providers who incur costs in the setup of broadband services, and who would want to ensure such costs are refunded from wholesale operators as well.
Ofcom responded to the letter from its Consumer Panel stating it intends to engage with consumer groups early in 2008 to discuss these issues and confirms it has already started looking into many of them.