Which? has welcomed moves to ensure broadband customers are given more accurate information about download speeds.
Some 32 internet service providers (ISPs), covering over 90% of broadband customers, have agreed to a new voluntary code of practice published by media regulator Ofcom.
Under the code, as part of the sign-up process fixed-line ISPs will have to give prospective customers an accurate estimate of the maximum speed that their line can support.
In addition, they will have to clearly explain to customers that the actual speed they will achieve is likely to be much lower than this maximum, and outline all the factors that can affect speed – such as high traffic on the broadband lines at peak times.
They’ll also have to resolve technical issues to improve speed and offer customers the choice to move onto a lower speed package when estimates given are inaccurate.
ISPs will also have to provide consumers with information on usage limits, including fair usage policies for packages that are advertised as ‘unlimited’, and alert them when they’ve breached those limits.
Last year Which? Online revealed a huge gap between advertised broadband speeds and the actual speeds users can achieve.
Our test of more than 300 customers found that while they were promised up to 8Mbps or faster, they actually achieved 2.7Mbps on average, with the lowest speed achieved just 0.09Mbps.
Which? broadband expert Ceri Stanaway said: ‘Broadband is an integral part of many consumers’ lives, and as new technologies like online TV take off, broadband speeds are an ever more important factor when choosing an ISP.
‘The results of our speed test last year raised serious concerns that many broadband customers were being misled about the speeds they were likely to achieve in practice.
‘Although most people we asked realised that advertised speeds were a guide rather than a guarantee, few appreciated that the gap between advertised and actual speed was so big.
‘We’ve been in discussions with Ofcom since we published the results of our test. We’re delighted Ofcom has taken our concerns on board and put in place this new code of practice.
‘We hope it will make it much easier for consumers to know what speeds to expect when they choose an ISP.’
ISPs should implement these measures within six months of signing up to the code.
Ofcom says it will monitor whether ISPs are complying with the code and says it could introduce formal regulations if problems continue.
Ceri Stanaway added: ‘It’s worth bearing in mind that although this is a positive move by Ofcom, the code of practice is voluntary.
‘We are glad that Ofcom plans to monitor the situation and hope that it will take swift action should ISPs fail to live up to the code.’