Now that Ofcom has published the full version of the updated Broadband Speeds Code of Practice we can provide a summary of what is expected to take effect on 1st October 2015, though a grace period to allow web site and estimate changes to take place will be in effect until the 31st January 2016.
The changes generally just affect products such as DSL, FTTC, VDSL, satellite or fixed broadband delivered over fixed wireless infrastructure. Cable and presumably FTTH is excluded from a lot of the areas, because the presumption is made that line speeds will match up to headline advertised speeds usually. BT, EE, KC in Hull, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media will all be signatories to version 3.0 as the old versions will no longer be in effect.
- Require speed estimates to be provided in the form of a range by ISPs providing FTTC/VDSL and fixed broadband delivered via fixed wireless technology (such as WiMAX, satellite and LTE).
- Specify that the Code applies to the sale of residential products, including upgrades/downgrades from the effective date of this Code onwards.
- Focus the type of information required to be given at point of sale to the key information which would allow a consumer to make an informed choice about the proposed broadband service before entering into a contract.
- Specify information which is relevant to a customer’s use of the broadband service to be provided following the sale (including information given about speeds at point of sale and the additional post-sale information specified below).
- for DSL, FTTC/VDSL and fixed broadband delivered via fixed wireless services, ISPs must state the estimated access line speed range, the minimum guaranteed access line speed and, where provided by the ISP to the customer during the sales process, the single-point estimate.
- Require ISPs to provide the above information in after sales correspondence (via letter, email and/or in My Account) as soon as possible after the sale has been concluded (and in any event within 7 calendar days), and to set this out clearly in plain English and in an easy to read format.
- If a customer requests further information on any of these issues at the point of sale, ISPs should provide further explanation at that point.
- For information on traffic management and fair usage, an ISP should provide guidance in the follow up literature in plain English, including links to website information if an ISP applies such policies.
- Replace the requirement on ISPs using technologies such as cable to indicate the likely throughput speed during peak times to a requirement on all ISPs, regardless of technology, to provide information in the follow-up literature explaining the factors which may cause peak time congestion.
- Extend the arrangements set out in the 4th Principle of the code to apply throughout the full duration of a customer’s contract period.Summary of changes from new voluntary code of practice
The two biggest changes are the fact that the code applies across the full contract term, so if the line connection speed degrades e.g. due to DLM and the ISP does not resolve this as a fault you are free to leave. Of course if you move to a provider than runs the same DLM system then you may see similar issues, but the DLM systems usually offer some ability for configuration by the provider, even if just one of three stability settings, so while some say all Openreach based services are the same there can be subtle differences.
The second change is that the minimum guaranteed access line speed should be stated communication at the point of sale, along with a speed range (though if the speed range is small i.e. less than 2 Mbps between top and bottom figures a single figure can be given). It needs to be emphasised that the access line speed is the connection speed as reported by the modem connected to the line, so slow speeds due to a big sports event are not enough to trigger the ability to exit a contract early, though if a provider is following the spirit of the code we would hope that if their peak time performance is so bad to have people consistently under the minimum guaranteed line access speed they will let them leave.
The minimum guaranteed speed is not a random figure the provider can pick from thin air, but is meant to be the bottom 10th percentile line speed for similar customers with that ISP. The fact that it is similar customers means providers can group people based on line length and the package they have ordered, so someone on a 6km ADSL2+ line will have a different minimum guarantee potentially to those on 1 km ADSL2+ line. The example of BT Infinity comes to mind again, where BT Retail only sells Infinity to those with a better estimate, but places those with lower estimates on a differently named product.
Separately but joined up by virtue of being part of a speech by Sharon White the boss of Ofcom, the new gaining provider led migration process that does away with the Migration Authorisation Code (MAC) system comes into effect on 20th June 2015. Many millions will have already experienced this process when migrating to a full LLU or between full LLU providers (e.g. Sky and TalkTalk) over the last few years, the new process tweaks this old system and makes it relevant to the majority of broadband connections, but does not apply to Virgin Media cable, Openreach FTTP services and the other alternative networks. The new 'one touch' system will carry a day notification period which is designed to avoid slamming as you should get a letter or email from your old provider notifying you of the impending move and a chance to cancel it, but importantly the old provider CANNOT use the letter to do any retention marketing. A number of smaller providers see the new system as favouring the larger providers with their marketing muscle particularly as a glossy advert may tempt people and there will no opportunity to make a customer save with a matching offer.