The new Broadband Speeds Code of Practice announced by Ofcom this morning has so far only been discussed by broadband service providers behind closed doors. Now it has been launched, we will see how it will work in practice.
The amount of work required by the broadband providers who have signed up to the Code is going to vary greatly. Very often the smaller providers will find it easier to adopt new working practices and ensure that all its staff understand what the new rules mean. Zen Internet highlight the fact that changes will not happen overnight.
"Zen Internet has signed up to Ofcom's Voluntary Code of Practice for Broadband Speeds. We fully support the spirit of the Code and welcome the notion that customers should be given a realistic expectation of the speed of their Broadband. We will be reviewing, and amending where necessary, our own processes over the course of the next six months to ensure we comply fully with the Principles set out in the Code. We will also continue to work with Ofcom with regards the further development of the Code."Statement from Zen Internet on Broadband Speeds Code
The last couple of years has seen a number of broadband campaigns aimed at making broadband speeds more transparent to the consumer such as the Crystal Clear campaign by Computeractive which ran last year. Those who have read the full Code of Practice will have noted that there is nothing stopping adverts from featuring 'up to 8 meg' and 'up to 24 meg' type phrases, or insisting on publication of average throughput. What the Code should do is make it totally clear to those signing up to a provider what the estimate of the connection speed is. It should be the case that estimated speeds for all BT Wholesale providers are identical, the main differences are when you start to compare ADSL and ADSL2+ services.
The Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) UK and its various members support the principle of this new Code of Practice. ISPA is encouraging its members to be open and transparent and believe the Code should support this.
"ISPA would like to see the CoP extended to include wireless mobile operators that provide broadband over their networks as well as fixed line broadband providers, to ensure minimal confusion to consumers.
ISPA members also feel that while the CoP focuses on access line speed, throughput speed is of much greater value to the user. Access line speed only gives an approximation of the speed they will receive. ISPA looks forward to continuing our work with Ofcom and the Internet industry to determine a methodology for collecting accurate information on throughput speeds to give to the consumer at the point of purchase."ISPA Press Release
The gap between the estimate connection speed given at sign-up and the actual connection speed of the ADSL modem and ADSL2+ modem is largely influenced by telephone wiring in the home. Our forums are littered with people who visit us complaining of slow speeds and a little investigation often reveals that just disconnecting the ring wire can have a large impact. Improvements of 1Mbps in connection speed are not uncommon, in some cases users have found their speeds increase from 4Mbps to 8Mbps. All too often those visiting our forums have tried seeking help from their provider who has failed to help - perhaps the shortly to arrive iPlate (which effectively does the same as removing the ring wire) from BT Wholesale and this new Code will improve support in this area.
One possible sticking point in the Code is the scenario where a line proves unstable at the estimated connection speed and automated systems or the provider manually tweaks the connection to connect at a lower speed to improve stability. This means there is a chance of customers moaning of a big difference between estimated connection speed and actual connection speed and tit for tat exchanges with support as they try to explain that the line is unstable at higher speeds. It is this extra support load that may have put some providers off of signing up to the Code, whilst they wait to see how it develops over the next few months before committing.
A potentially cloudy area is that of price comparison sites, which invariably take some details (e.g. postcode and/or telephone number) when you are comparing broadband providers. In reality the Code is pretty clear, since all agents involved in selling or promoting their broadband services fall within the codes remit. What broadband providers need to ensure is that the landing page from referral sites is not too far through the sign-up process that crucial information like the estimated connection speed and detail on fair use policy/traffic management is missed.
Internet performance company Epitiro has also expressed the need for the measurement to be wider than just speed, and also look at quality as part of the metrics:
"This code and Ofcom's research programme is great as it recognises the importance of broadband performance, not just price. However line speed is just one indicator of broadband performance, but there are many others. For example reliability of broadband connections is important. Many would say it's more frustrating not to have a connection than to have a slow connection. This is a positive move by Ofcom which will reduce consumers' over reliance on crude and unreliable speed tests, which do not take into consideration issues such as traffic management policies."Gavin Johns, Managing Director, Epitiro
We look forward to seeing the various broadband providers providing clear information on their traffic management policies. To date most of the 'big six' providers have been very vague on what is affected by their policies making it almost impossible to decide whether a service featuring 'unlimited usage' but including traffic management policies is very different from a service with no traffic shaping but with a usage allowance.
The requirement to allow people to regrade to a cheaper/slower package if their line gets nowhere near the estimated connection speed for some broadband providers may see revenues decrease as users regrade to slower (often fixed speed) products. The effect of this is likely to be small as almost all broadband packages these days are rate adaptive with the lower priced packages offering lower usage allowances rather than slower speeds. Those opting for a slower speed/cheaper package as part of the Code need to be careful to make sure that usage allowances are appropriate for their needs and that the downgraded package still comes with all the extra goodies, for example the free wireless router or inclusive Wi-Fi hotspot time.
Overall the Code seems to be a step forward and should provide more information to consumers. How this information is presented is crucial--Too much technical terminology and consumers are going to switch off and miss it, or simply not understand the significance. We will most likely have a period of some confusion as some providers provide reams of information and others keep things so simple that it does not really follow the spirit of the rules in being open and honest. There are also questions about whether small businesses on 'business products' should also be included as the level of information many of them have access to is not significantly different from consumers.