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Ofcom's ISP code of practice: why it is necessary

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Active enforcement

For anyone suffering at the whim of a rogue service provider, Ofcom may very well offer the last hope of resolution. So it can be frustrating to consumers that the regulator will not investigate individual complaints.

Ofcom's usual practice is to merely gather complaints and do nothing. An investigation can only begin once a particular company causes a blip in the statistics.

Coinciding with the launch of the new migration rules, Ofcom announced an "own-initiative" investigation into the broadband industry.

"Ofcom's active enforcement programme will gather information from broadband providers about migrations and consider evidence of non-compliance," the regulator said in a Competition Bulletin on its website.

"Ofcom may initiate separate investigations of named providers...or may move directly under this programme to take action where, for example, Ofcom has reasonable grounds for believing that a communications provider is contravening General Condition 22."

Steve Weller of uSwitch.com, an organisation which has campaigned against service providers charging for MACs, gave a cautious welcome to the new regulations.

"The 234,000 consumers switching broadband every month have a right to do so simply and free of charge. With this in mind we are pleased that Ofcom has taken a step forward towards resolving the MAC code issues."

Consumer journalism by consumers?

The web has long been the refuge of the embittered consumer. Company forums and dedicated complaint sites are filled with horror stories, but the veracity of those who complain is rarely known. Even the most sincere complaints are often so filled with invective that they can appear as little more than exaggerated rants.

"There are too many sites on the web with high-decibel complaining," NowPublic.com CEO Leonard Brody says.

"Too often, the signal gets drowned out by the noise. But by encouraging consumers to use the basic tools of journalism to get answers, I suspect that corporations might get the hint that here is a way to resolve issues in a more rational manner."

So will NowPublic.com and other citizen journalism sites become a credible outlet for consumers to research and report their own complaints?

"We have not yet actively sought out this kind of news activity," Brody says.

"When I saw your posting, and the response, I was quite thrilled. If our members were to use your posting as an exemplar, the whole area of consumer news might be remarkably reshaped. To promote civil reporting, discussion, and potential resolution - the prospect is inspiring."

Brody's enthusiasm may lead to a new outlet for consumers to blow the whistle on what mischievous companies have been getting up to behind our backs.

But can NowPublic's team of paid and volunteer editors ensure that submitted articles will be fair and accurate? The organisation's current passive policies will do little to silence critics of citizen journalism.

"If a story is bogus usually our community deals with it by burying it with indifference, through our moderation tools, and by the comments left on the site," Brody says.

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