Mystery shoppers have been commissioned by Ofcom to investigate how broadband providers are complying with the Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds. The objective of the code was to introduce a self-regulatory measure to encourage broadband providers to increase the standard of information available to users on broadband speeds.
Of the queries performed by mystery shoppers, 15% were not given an estimate of their access line speed, and 42% were only given one after prompting the sales agent near the end of the sales process. The accuracy of the information proved to vary. In some cases, users were given double the line speed of another provider for the same line and technology, and sometimes received different answers over the phone when compared with the website of the same service provider. The majority of line speeds also did not match (within 1Mbps) the speeds given by the BT Wholesale line checker.
Accordingly, Ofcom are proposing that ISP's line checkers are improved to give more accurate information with an idea for a standardised method of reporting this, before updating the code to require this. Currently, service providers use different information to provide an estimate of the speed that would be available including an estimate based on line length, line capacitance and line attenuation.
Other improvements to be made include giving information early in the sale process about line speeds, particularly before payment information or a MAC is requested. Ofcom also seek to ensure that factors that affect broadband speed are identified to consumers. This does often happen on websites, but not usually via telephone, and details they would like identified to users that may affect speed include network capacity, congestion on the Internet, traffic management policies, as well as informing that actual throughput speeds will be lower than line speeds.
The code currently specifies that consumers should have speed-related problems handled effectively. This means that if a consumer purchases a specific speed product but doesn't receive this speed, they should be migrated to a cheaper, lower speed option. This isn't always available as many providers only offer one option of speed for their products which is usually marketed as an 'up-to 24meg' type service. In these cases, Ofcom may encourage providers to allow consumers to leave their contract if the access speed is significantly below the estimate provided when signing up.
The next steps from here are to get the changes made with agreement from ISPs who want to be signed up to the code by the Summer. If changes aren't agreed, a regulatory review may have to take place to see if formal regulation in the area is required to enforce this on broadband providers..