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Broadband providers are coming up short on speed

Our mystery shop found that providers aren't always upfront about the connection speeds you'll really get

Some of the UK’s biggest broadband providers are inadequately informing customers about speeds when they are buying a new broadband deal, new research from Which? reveals.

With Ofcom introducing an updated Code of Practice for providers in March 2019, Which? mystery shopped broadband companies to see if they met the current guidelines, as well as how prepared they were for the renewed requirements.

Each provider received 12 calls from our mystery shoppers, who gave them an address they were planning to move to. Our snapshot research recorded whether sales agents gave the information currently recommended by Ofcom’s Code of Practice, without being asked for it. 

It also looked at how well providers are prepared for future requirements, designed to make speeds even clearer.

Which broadband providers performed well?

Overall, broadband providers gave the information currently required under the code less than half (47%) of the time. Under the code, providers should give customers estimated home speeds ‘as early as practicable’ within the sales process – such as when you give your address.

They should also explain that speeds can be influenced by a range of factors, such as network capacity and the number of subscribers to the service.

TalkTalk advisers only gave information about estimated speeds 5 times out of 12, and advice about speeds was not given in any of the 12 calls.

TalkTalk told us that it adheres to the code and that more information would’ve been provided later in the sales process if our mystery shoppers had gone on to agree a sale. But, it was outperformed by four providers (SSE, Utility Warehouse, Post Office and John Lewis Broadband) that haven’t yet signed the code, which is voluntary and self-regulated.

Vodafone finished second bottom, with EE Broadband one place above. Both are also signed up to Ofcom’s guidelines, but Vodafone provided information about estimated speeds just 7 times out of 12, with the total for EE standing at 8. Neither provider gave advice about the factors that can influence speeds.

When it came to meeting the requirements set out by Ofcom, Sky’s pre-prepared statement, in which speed data is outlined to potential customers, helped to make it the best performing provider by far. It offered estimated speeds and additional advice on 21 out of 24 occasions.

It was followed by Zen Internet in second and SSE in third, with the two companies providing the details expected on 14 and 13 occasions respectively.

How clear each provider was with our 12 mystery callers – current requirements

Voluntary code of practice signatory? Times estimated speed given Times advice about factors affecting speed was offered Result – current requirements
Sky Yes 12 9 21
Zen Internet Yes 12 2 14
SSE No 12 1 13
BT Yes 12 0 12
Utility Warehouse No 10 0 10
Plusnet Yes 10 0 10
Post Office Broadband No 10 0 10
John Lewis Broadband No 9 0 9
EE Broadband Yes 8 0 8
Vodafone Yes 7 0 7
TalkTalk Yes 5 0 5

And the rules are getting tougher

The results follow an announcement from Ofcom this year that confirmed even tougher requirements for providers are to be introduced to the Code of Practice. By March 2019, those signed up will be expected to provide minimum guaranteed speeds upfront, along with details about speeds people can expect at peak times.

Our research also assessed providers’ performance against these future requirements, but results were poor overall. Only Zen Internet, EE Broadband and Vodafone proactively offered information about minimum guaranteed speed at least half of the time, and no provider gave information about peak speed.

How clear each provider was with our 12 mystery callers – future requirements

Voluntary code of practice signatory? Times a maximum speed was given Times a peak speed was given Result – future requirements
Zen Internet Yes 11 0 11
EE Broadband Yes 7 0 7
Vodafone Yes 6 0 6
Utility Warehouse No 5 0 5
Sky Yes 3 0 3
John Lewis Broadband No 2 0 2
Plusnet Yes 2 0 2
TalkTalk Yes 2 0 2
BT Yes 0 0 0
Post Office Broadband No 0 0 0
SSE No 0 0 0

Which? supports the action Ofcom is taking to ensure consumers are given the information they need about speeds upfront when buying a deal.

We believe that providers shouldn’t simply be sticking purely to the current standards, but should also be looking to proactively offer important advice on speeds to customers as standard. Providers should be taking steps now to be in line with the new code as soon as possible.

Young woman working at her laptop

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: ‘Having a clear idea of what speeds you can expect from a broadband deal before you sign up is your right, but our research shows that providers have a long way to go to meet their customers’ expectations.

‘We support Ofcom’s action to strengthen the Code and providers need to play their part and implement the new rules quickly and update their advice as soon as they can so that customers have a clearer picture about what they’re getting.’

Are you getting the right speed?

When you signed up to your broadband deal, the provider should’ve given you a clear idea of what speed you could expect in your home. Use our free speed checker to find out what broadband speed you’re actually getting. It will help you compare the speed you receive with what you’ve been told you can expect.

If you’re unhappy with your broadband speed, you can also use our broadband complaint tool to quickly make a formal complaint to your provider, or read our tips on ways you can speed up slow broadband connections.

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