UK: Ofcom calls on broadband providers to improve speeds information

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Mystery shopping to check compliance with Ofcom’s Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds has revealed that information provided to consumers by internet service providers (ISPs) has improved but has also identified areas where further work is needed.

Introduced in December 2008, the Code helps ensure that consumers are aware of the likely broadband speeds they can get on their line from an ISP before signing up to a service.

A strengthened Code came into force in July 2011, through which ISP signatories have committed to give maximum speed estimates in the form of a range as early as practicable in the sales process.

The research shows that in 93 per cent of telephone enquiries made by mystery shoppers, an estimate of the broadband speed was given by the provider, and in 72 per cent of cases an estimate was given in the form of a range.

Prompting sales agents for speed information

The research has highlighted particular areas where ISPs need to improve. For example, some sales agents had to be prompted by mystery shoppers to provide speed estimates, despite the Code requiring that this information should be volunteered as early as possible in the sales process.

Overall, speed estimates were provided without prompting from the mystery shoppers in 59 per cent of all calls.

Providers who were most likely to give callers an estimated speed without prompting were Karoo (76 per cent of cases), Sky (72 per cent) and Plusnet (67 per cent).

TalkTalk (47 per cent of cases) and BT Total Broadband (48 per cent) were significantly less likely to provide a speed estimate without prompting from the caller.

Following discussions with Ofcom, both BT and TalkTalk have agreed to address this issue by amending their staff training and sales processes.

Better broadband speeds information

As a result of the mystery shopping research, Ofcom has taken action to further improve broadband speeds information for consumers, including:

  • having ongoing discussions with ISPs about the information that their telephone sales agents provide to consumers and how this could be improved;
  • making clear to ISPs that the Code’s requirement of providing information on speeds as early as possible in the call should be adhered to by ensuring that sales agents offer a speed estimate early in the conversation; and
  • updating consumer guides on choosing a broadband provider and broadband speeds to help consumers ask the right questions before signing up to a new service or switching provider.

The Code was last updated in 2011 and Ofcom will carry out a further review over the next year to ensure that it is still appropriate for consumers’ needs.

Ofcom will also conduct further mystery shopping research next year to check whether improvements in compliance have been made.

Claudio Pollack, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director, said: “It is vital that as the choice of broadband services expands, UK consumers get the best possible information when choosing a broadband provider. Our mystery shopping shows that, while consumer information about broadband speeds has improved in important areas, there is still more to be done.

“We are working with internet providers to improve information that consumers receive when they sign up to a new service and will continue to monitor this area closely.”

Price comparison sites

When buying a broadband service from an ISP that is signed up to the Code, consumers should ensure that they get a speed estimate and should know their rights to cancel a contract if speeds are significantly below that estimate.

Ofcom encourages consumers to seek information about broadband services before they choose a provider. Consumers can also use Ofcom-accredited price comparison sites to compare prices between broadband packages. These are Simplify Digital, BroadbandChoices, Broadband.co.uk and Cable.co.uk.

As well as mystery shopping research, Ofcom regularly publishes research into the actual speeds delivered by individual ISPs. Here to read more.

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