Proposals to improve consumer rights by EU
The push to create a Connected Europe continues and a comment by Neelie Kroes, Vice President of the European Commission probably sums up things nicely: "Soon, internet infrastructure could be supporting everything we do: from flexible business services, to smarter living environments, to better healthcare.". We might contest that for millions of people across the EU this is already a reality, and the strength of the digital economy in the UK is testament to that, but while there are some smaller countries that have very advanced internet infrastructure there are large swathes of the EU where the digital economy is just a pipe dream.
Ofcom in the UK has traditionally operated with a light touch approach to regulation, and while some thought the single telecoms market might mean an end to Ofcom it is clear from reading the avalanche of material that regulators in each country are secure, simple the set of rules they implement are set to have a firmer direction set from above. Some of the more interesting elements of the new rules that will affect people are summarised below:
- mandatory pre-contractual and contractual information: Including information on expected speeds and other quality of service parameters
- increased transparency and facilities to avoid "bill shocks"
- the right to terminate contracts after 6 months without cost (residual value of any supplied hardware or other promotions can still be charged for)
- Internet access will be obliged to provide an unhindered connection to all content and applications. A framework will set out a legal way for specialised services to operate with enhanced Quality of Service. The 'all content' is qualified in the paperwork to refer to 'legal' content in some places.
- Improved switching between providers using harmonised principles. This section reads almost as if either the EU has borrowed the proposed new switching scheme by Ofcom, or Ofcom has prepared its proposals in the knowledge of what the EU was aiming for.
- Right for consumers to terminate contracts if speed promises made at point of sale are not met
- Provide data on download and upload speeds including information on peak hour speeds.
- Ensure any fair use policy is laid out in a clear and comprehensible way, and also what impact any QoS based services will have on other activites on a connection.
For a long time there has been a struggle to make the public understand that Internet connections are complex beasts, and while many will welcome the move to give the consumer more power, there are implications we can foresee and namely that speed will vanish even more than it has from advertising and marketing. For the DSL based services the requirement to allow consumers to move if speeds are not what is expected may lead to some people simply switching provider several times before the realisation that the technology can only actually provide a certain speed to their property, and potentially long explanations that while a user may get X Mbps to the Internet Provider, because of issues beyond the providers control the speeds the user sees from sites will vary greatly. In the world of data centres and business grade connectivity the solution is to sell what is a very slow speed e.g. 10 Mbps with a burst speed, in short you are guaranteed to always have access to 10 Mbps, but might depending on what others are doing be able to burst to speeds of 100 Mbps. The question now is what impact this might have on the take-up of FTTC based services, and even though FTTP avoids all the DSL speed humps it still experiences all the potential for congestions.