Ofcom has a duty to monitor and regulate broadband providers, and to that end it has carried out a mystery shopper exercise taking place during December 2011 and January 2012. Providers websites and telephone sales were tested as part of the process, but with the BCAP/ASA changes to broadband advertising happening only a few weeks ago it is possible that the landscape has changed significantly.
In the past Ofcom has focused on the big half dozen providers, but for this exercise it has looked at some of the smaller providers, though it has grouped the smaller and medium sized providers together, making it difficult to draw conclusions about an individual provider.
|Percentage of assessments where a speed estimate was/was not provided on the telephone|
|Provider||% calls providing a speed estimate||% calls where prompting was needed||% calls ending without a speed estimate||% calls ending without estimate - identified reason||% calls ending without estimate - no reason identified|
|BT Total Broadband||96||48||4||3||1|
|Virgin Media (ADSL)||91||34||9||3||6|
For the observant, the reason Virgin Media (cable) is not in the table because cable providers are not required by the Speeds Code of Practice to provide a speed estimate.
On an initial viewing of the data, things don't look too bad, but when you look at what proportion needed prompting for the sales staff to give some form of speed estimate, it is clear that there is still a lot of working to done in terms of training sales staff, and providing tools that ensure they have the information to hand.
Providers gave various reasons for the lack of estimates, and it seems some sales calls were dealt with as a pre-sales, rather than being an order that was going to procede. This goes against the spirit of the code that providers have signed up that tries to make the provider give an estimate as early in the process as possible. Another problem was that of fully unbundled lines, these become invisible in terms of speed checker information for many providers, which perhaps means there is a case for more work and co-operation between the wholesalers, unbundled operators and the retail providers.
For now BT and TalkTalk have following discussions with Ofcom agreed to address staff training and their sales processes to increase their level of performance in this area.
One of the joys of having broadband is of course that you do not have to deal with sales staff, and can peruse retailers at will using your broadband connection. Ofcom did research this and the summary figures are shown below:
|Analysis of data provided by Ofcom of GFK looking at providers websites|
|Provider||% website visits resulting in a speed estimate||% website visits ending without an estimate||% website visits ending without an estimate - identified reason||% website visits ending without an estimate - no reason identified|
It seems the results on websites are still less than ideal, though many providers in March/April 2012 revamped their websites, with some removing all speed references, forcing potential customers through their telephone checker system to get a speed estimate.
"Discussions with the Advertising Standards Authority and their Advertising Code-making bodies CAP and BCAP on the clarity of broadband advertising following our response to the CAP and BCAP consultation on reviews of "Up to" and "Unlimited" claims and the publication by CAP and BCAP of guidance in September 2011. The reviews have in our view led to significant improvements in how broadband is advertised, and we continue to have an interest in how ISPs advertise their broadband services to ensure that consumers are given clear, consistent and accurate information."Ofcom Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds: Mystery shopping research
Hopefully the web based shopping will be revisited in the near future, as we feel that some providers are committing the sin of omission by not giving any indication of the technology used or the speed ranges, until the potential customer has given some form of identification, which generally is in the form of a telephone number.
The broadband market is getting more complex with the increasing availability of VDSL2 based services, and it is not clear whether advertising rule changes have improved matters, or the confusion arising means people are spending more time to try and understand the speed issue. Ofcom needs to look closely at the rule changes, given the results from our poll back in April, which ran shortly after the new rules came into effect.