Today Ofcom has announced the introduction of stricter rules for broadband providers, requiring companies to offer more accurate information to customers when they sign up.
These new guidelines are improvements to the existing broadband code of practice that providers can voluntarily sign up to. Providers who are signed up to the code – currently representing 90% of the market – will have until 1 March 2019 to introduce the changes.
We know that consumers are often feel left in the dark about the broadband speeds they can expect, so this is a welcome change and should improve the situation for consumers if it’s delivered effectively.
Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said:
‘Consumers have told us that they feel confused about the broadband speeds they are likely to get and the service they pay for, so further steps to help inform customers and empower them to walk away without facing a penalty are welcome.
‘Providers signed up to the code need to move quickly to implement these changes, so that broadband customers are given a realistic expectation of the speed they should experience before they commit to a contract.’
Currently, BT, EE, KCOM, Sky, TalkTalk, Virgin Media, Vodafone and Zen Internet have signed Ofcom’s voluntary code.
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New broadband rules
The main changes to the current code of practice are:
More realistic speed estimates at point of purchase
Now customers will be given speeds they are likely to get at peak times (8pm-10pm). Ofcom says that taking into account the fall in speeds at this time, when the network is most busy, will give customers a more realistic speed estimate when they buy broadband.
Always providing a minimum guaranteed speed and right to exit connected to this speed
When selling their service to customers, providers will be asked to make sure customers are aware of the minimum guaranteed speed available to them and their right to cancel (without a fee) if this isn’t met.
Strengthening customers’ rights
Now there will be a 30-day calendar limit to how long companies have to improve the speeds before they must offer the right to cancel. This information must be stated more clearly to existing customers with a link to the minimum guaranteed speed so they know what can trigger a right to exit.
Extending the right to exit to bundles
Until now a TV and broadband bundle could scupper plans to exit a poor broadband service. The changes mean that when you exit a bad broadband contract you also have the right to cancel the rest of your bundle, such as landline and TV purchased with broadband.
Making sure there is a level playing field
The existing code currently only applies to broadband services on copper and part-fibre services, but the changes will mean fully cabled services will be subject to the same rules. This means that all customers will be able to benefit from the codes, so all companies will be providing customers with detailed speed information as detailed above.
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How does a code of practice help?
Until now this code protected customers by making companies offer information about estimated speeds at sign up. The code also gives customers the right to exit contracts without penalty if the speed they are getting falls below the minimum level. But at the moment customers are confused by the speeds they should be getting and when they are eligible to leave without penalty.
The new rules are supposed to strengthen the position of consumers so that when we buy broadband packages we not only know more about what speed to expect but how we’ll be able to exit early. Whether this happens effectively will depend on the compliance of broadband providers: Ofcom’s own research reveals that customers aren’t given this information in all instances.
Ofcom has given providers 12 months to implement these changes as it give companies a change to change their processes. In the meantime you do still have some rights when your broadband is slow or often interrupted, head over to our broadband service problem advice pages, to find out more.