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Ofcom urged to clamp down on broadband speed deceit

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Updated The Ofcom Consumer Panel has called on regulators to pull their fingers out and demand that ISPs are more honest with us about the limitations of broadband.

The group wants a new mandatory code of practice to force providers to qualify their dodgy "up to" speed claims, which accompany virtually all broadband marketing. The slowdown effects of contention, distance from the exchange, and network status should be made clear, it argues.

The panel has no powers of its own, but acts as an independent advisory body to Ofcom on consumers' behalf.

Panel chair Colette Bowe said: "This code would establish agreed processes to give the customer the best information during and after the sales process, and to give them flexibility to move freely to different packages that reflect the actual speeds with which their ISPs are able to provide them."

If Ofcom heeds the call, ISPs will be obliged to contact people two weeks after their line is activated to tell them their actual upload and download bit rates. If the customer isn't happy, they should then be released from their contract, the panel has written to Ofcom chief Ed Richards.

Research has shown that most of the public don't understand that if they buy an "up to" 8Mbit/s package, they're unlikely to ever get much better than 4Mbit/s.

Meanwhile, overall satisfaction with ISPs' customer service has been sliding.

The consumer panel approached the big ISPs in October to ask how they thought consumers could be better informed.

The fact that it has called on watchdogs to impose new regulations suggests it didn't get the response it was hoping for, or at least no ISP agreed to be honest when rivals are using weasel words in advertising.

The consumer panel's letter to Richards is here (pdf). Ofcom has said it is examining the issue, but has given no indication if and when it will act.

Separately today, research showed that among "up to 8Mbit/s" providers, Sky's LLU network delivers the highest median average download speed at 3.1Mbit/s.

Virgin Media took the fastest consumer broadband available crown, with its "up to" 20Mbit/s cable package delivering median 7.3Mbit/s, ahead of O2-owned Be's 5.2Mbit/s ADSL2+ service. ®

Update

Ofcom has replied (pdf). In a letter published by the regulator today, Ed Richards told the consumer panel watchdogs are talking to ISPs about the issues it has raised, and will consider using formal powers if they don't get results. "We are keen that any measures are implemented in the shortest time frame possible," he wrote.

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