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Ofcom seek changes to Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds
Monday 29 March 2010 12:22:52 by John Hunt

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..


Posted by herdwick over 7 years ago
is there an analysis by ISP ? I read the PDFs but didn't see any.
Posted by seb (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
@herdwick - no there isn't an ISP analysis beyond how many users they had test each.. Nothing on individual ISP performance, which is very disappointing.
Posted by herdwick over 7 years ago
I emailed to ask OFCOM, hinting at a FoI request if they can't provide it. I suspect the bad PR is a better corrective measure than anything.
Posted by searcher100 over 7 years ago
Samknows and ofcom are expanding their joint program of equipment in peoples homes for monitoring the isp by a working connection and maybe this is how they got their previous figures from the first tranche of volunteers.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
What Ofcom or providers fail to address is that once a line is enabled, you have real DSL stats to base further estimates on.

Alas with LLU lines, BT Wholesale will not have access to this info, so you are reliant on Openreach non-DSL data.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
andrew, doesnt seem to solve the problem of bad estimates. I have read many stories where someone gets a cold call from BT claiming their line will synch much higher than their current live sync. Ofcom been toothless, making isps say an estimate means nothing. Make them sell products that fit the line speed.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"The majority of line speeds also did not match (within 1Mbps) the speeds given by the BT Wholesale line checker."

Like that useless bit of junk is always accurate!
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"......someone gets a cold call from BT claiming their line will synch much higher than their current live sync."

Happened to me several times in early 2009, claimed they could provide faster speeds than the 18Mb average i get...... How when there is no BT ADSL2+(21CN) at my exchange though is anyones guess, maybe their Line checker should be called lie checker? (calls funniy stopped when i told them a thing or two about communications act and misuse in a nice letter).
Posted by cyberdoyle over 7 years ago
BT Lie Checker. that about sums it up. I don't blame the ISPs, they use the lie checker to test the customer's line, and it has been proved time and time again to be wrong. Why don't ofcom sort that out instead of making all this fuss? Its like sticking plasters over a sore that needs lancing. Its the lie checker that says everyone in the country can get broadband unless proved otherwise, but even when the engineer has proved otherwise the checker still says they can get it..
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 7 years ago
To cyberdoyle, what lines have been proved to not support ADSL and the checker still says people can get it? There is a system for marking lines as RED when this happens, and it has happened in the past.

There is only one way to give an accurate estimate, test each phone line with an ADSL signal every few months. A costly and intrusive method.

Ofcom could force ISPs to offer lower priced packages, but when the ISP retails up to 8Meg for £6.49 a month, what should a 3Meg sync pay? Do they get the same usage allowance still?
Posted by CommanderZendo over 7 years ago
Part 1

I'm really disappointed to see this.

We adopted the Voluntary Code from the outset and where involved in various conference calls with ISP's and Ofcom when the detail was being thrashed out early in 2008. We made a number of recommendations along the way as did other ISP’s who have focused their business model on being open and honest with their customers. We were and still are happy to be included.
Posted by CommanderZendo over 7 years ago
Part 2

I wouldn’t be worried at all if our performance was made public so that consumers can make an informed decision as to how we were doing within the code, in fact I cannot see how any ISP would not want to be listed if they are keen to support the code and be open with their customers about what they are likely to receive speed wise. Yes mistakes will arise, some staff members may not follow the code to the letter in some instances etc. That surely helps you to correct the mistakes made.

Posted by CommanderZendo over 7 years ago
Part 3

If a customer wants to know who to select as their provider then this alone would not go against an ISP if they were highlighted as not performing as well as they might under the code. Let’s give customers some credit. Many are much more clued up today on broadband etc. than perhaps we saw 10 years ago.

Posted by CommanderZendo over 7 years ago
Part 4

The BT speed checker can “ONLY” give an estimate on circuit speed and anyone in the industry knows fine well that a circuit can be impacted by numerous variables so to give a 100% spot on figure is impossible. A guide is the best you’ll get and this was made abundantly clear on numerous occasions to Ofcom prior to the code, during its development and subsequently.
Posted by CommanderZendo over 7 years ago
Part 5

We must remember that the original reason for this research was based on customers complaining to Ofcom about being misled by headline speeds. Ofcom are keen to publish performance stats for speed, now that they have performance figures based on a Mystery shopper exercise about the use of the COP they should be informing the public of the performance of ISP’s. Otherwise, the industry can all be congratulated or condemned which would be unfair if there is differences in performance.

Posted by herdwick over 7 years ago
the BT Wholesale *number* checker is usually pretty reliable. It is a good thing that it says broadband may work on a long line and allows an order to be placed as the previous regime said "sorry, not available" and denied a service. Where a service fails to work the checker does reflect this by saying "despite an engineer visit, blah blah".

If we had a lie checker it would halve cyberdoyle's output.
Posted by ian72 over 7 years ago
And none of it takes into account the home user who has dreadful wiring which could make their line unusable. Is the home wiring also the responsibility of the ISP?
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
LOL I actually meant Lie checker as in it not over estimating in my case but under estimating. Every BT checker thinks my line is only capable of 2Mb. In reality on normal ADSL it hits the max sync for upto 8Mb and on my current LLU it hits 18Mb..... Thats a bit different to the "(within 1Mbps)" BTs Lie checker :D
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
Of course for me this is a good thing, point is though BT lie checkers cant be relied upon any more than any other ISPs guesstimates. Why Ofcom even bothered wasting time with this experiment or even used BT lie checker as the benchmark remains an utter mystery.
Posted by tommy45 over 7 years ago
I can say more or less the same thing, bt lie checker says 2mb but may support upto 6mb,lol when i was on ipstream adsl max i got the full 8mb sync,now on LLU and get 17mb,(with a line fault)
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
LOL tommy45, now thats funny with a fault you get 17Mb but the oh so reliable lie checker estimates 2Mb LOL
Well done Ofcom you compared results to something that estimates speeds as reliably as a 3 legged horse wins races.
Posted by Tox-Laximus over 7 years ago
If all broadband providers were made to have monthly contracts this would solve all present and future problems, thus empowering the customer to simply migrate away from rubbish companies without contract penalties.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
If every customer had a brain they wouldnt sign contracts that can last UP TO 18 months from BT and the odd other.
Posted by user589 over 7 years ago

Well, pretty much all contracts are 12+ months. I had my contract with bt for 18 months then after that they wouldn't continue it on monthly basis they said I have to enter another one year contract :(

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