Internet service providers in the UK will, from Friday, follow a voluntary code of practice that will commit them to being honest and accurate about the actual speeds of their broadband products.
According to telecoms regulator Ofcom, internet service providers (ISPs) covering more than 95 percent of broadband customers in the UK have signed up to the code of practice. Signatories include the biggest ISPs, such as Virgin Media, Sky, BT, Be Broadband, O2 (both Home and Business), Orange Home, Tiscali and TalkTalk. Ofcom will monitor their compliance with the code over the next six months.
The code requires ISPs to give their customers — at the point of sale — accurate estimates of the maximum speed their lines can support. They also have to explain "clearly and simply" how technical factors affect speeds, give help and advice on how to get the best speeds, and offer alternative packages without penalties if the real speed is "a lot lower than the original estimate", according to the code.
Signatory ISPs also have to clearly explain their fair-usage policies, and alert customers when those policies have been breached.
"Ofcom welcomes the fact that so many ISPs have signed and now implemented the code of practice," the regulator's chief executive, Ed Richards, said in a statement on Thursday. "Over 95 percent of broadband customers are covered by the code, which means that the vast majority of people should be confident about the advice they receive on broadband speeds."
The Communications Consumer Panel, an independent panel that advises Ofcom, welcomed Thursday's announcement as "very good news".
"The new code will help consumers make better informed choices," panel chair Anna Bradley said in a statement on Thursday. "It addresses the concerns that we raised with Ofcom and the ISPs last year about broadband speeds — about the mismatch between the speeds that consumers think they are buying and what they actually get."
Bradley added that "we now need to be sure that ISPs honour their commitments".
Getting ISPs to be more straightforward with consumers about speeds was a key part of Francesco Caio's recent report into possible upgrades to the UK's broadband networks. The idea is to force ISPs to be more competitive with each other, thereby stimulating private investments in such upgrades.
Mobile-broadband speeds are not covered in the code. An Ofcom spokesperson told ZDNet UK that this was because, at the time of the code's formulation, "mobile broadband take-up was still quite low so [Ofcom] needed to see how that market was going to develop".
"Secondly, there are different issues with mobile broadband as opposed to fixed-line — eg the possible reasons for slow speeds generally won't be the same," the spokesperson wrote in an email. In the light of mobile broadband's rapid rise, however, Ofcom will now consider including it in the current code or developing a separate code for it.