Page last updated at 18:21 GMT, Monday, 29 March 2010 19:21 UK

Ofcom to act on broadband speeds

Ethernet cable, BBC
Customers need better information about potential broadband speeds.

Net firms must do a better job of telling customers about broadband speeds or face stiffer regulation, Ofcom has warned.

The warning came out of research the telecoms watchdog carried out on how ISPs sell broadband.

It revealed that 74% of customers were not told that the maximum speed on their line was likely to be higher than the speed they would actually get.

Ofcom wants to make improvements to how broadband is sold later this year.

Slow down

The regulator used mystery shoppers to find out what different ISPs say when customers are about to sign up.

It found that while 85% were told what the speed on their line would be, 42% had to prompt sales staff to tell them this information.

The mystery shoppers also found that ISPs often gave very wide estimates of broadband speed and sometimes gave different estimates for the same line. Ofcom put this down to the separate testing methods used by ISPs.

The voluntary code of practice on broadband selling introduced in December 2008 says ISPs must tell customers what speed they might enjoy and spell out any problems that might slow down data.

Ofcom now proposes working with ISPs to ensure testing regimes are consistent and to amend the code of practice to make sure speeds are mentioned early on in sales conversations with customers.

It will also talk to ISPs about whether it is feasible for customers to leave a contract if the speed they get is substantially lower than the estimate they got at sign up.

"We will work with the internet service providers to ensure consumers receive the best quality information and amend the existing code accordingly," said Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive in a statement. "We will continue to monitor and assess performance against the code in the coming months."

If the further testing of sales procedures reveals are still not adhering to the code of practice, Ofcom will consider introducing regulations that make accurate speed disclosure mandatory.

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