Ofcom goes after fake broadband speed: Now ISPs must guarantee minimum speed and show peak times

Ofcom goes after fake broadband speed: Now ISPs must guarantee minimum speed and show peak times

Wednesday, 7 March, 2018

Ofcom has changed the rules to force ISPs into giving customers realistic information on their home broadband speed.

These new rulings come into force in March 2019, but are voluntary up until then. This means the best broadband providers will start adopting these standards right now.

The battle between ISPs and Ofcom over misleading broadband speeds has been raging for years.

Alongside price, internet download speed – listed as “up to” a certain number of Mbps – is usually the biggest selling point pushed by ISP advertisements.

For years, providers have exaggerated their speeds by listing the best possible connection under perfect conditions.

By tacking on the handy “up to” disclaimer, ISPs can promise bandwidths far higher than what the typical customer is likely to receive.

Only 10% of customers have to be able to get the maximum “up to” speed for broadband providers to be able to sell products.

Compensation for bad broadband: £25 a day agreed from 2019

What’s on offer

  • ADSL broadband – Also known as standard speed broadband, this is the oldest type of technology still being sold on the UK market. ADSL uses copper wiring and can produce a maximum line speed of 17Mbps. Usually sold as “up to 17Mbps” but speeds vary wildly depending on your distance from the nearest green street cabinet and the type of connection used between the cabinet and your home. Usually supplied by the UK’s biggest network, Openreach.
    Useful for: Getting online for the minimum possible cost. One person or a maximum of two people using the broadband or WiFi at any one time. Basic web surfing, checking emails, Facebook.
    Not suitable for: Streaming TV, streaming music, online gaming, multiple devices like smartphones and tablets all using the WiFi at once.
  • Fibre to the cabinet – Currently sold as “fibre” broadband, this technology uses some fibre-optic cables as part of the broadband connection but also relies on copper or sometimes aluminium wiring for the last mile from the green street cabinet to your home.
    Comes in two varieties, a slower, cheaper version up to 38Mbps downloads and a faster, usually more expensive type up to 76Mbps downloads. Usually supplied by the UK’s biggest network, Openreach.
    Useful for: A stronger, faster broadband connection. Multiple people using the WiFi at once. Streaming Netflix or Spotify regularly, watching streams on multiple TVs throughout the house without buffering.
  • Cable broadband – Virgin have access to the vast majority of cable broadband as they build their own network outside of Openreach. Offers a variety of speeds starting at 50Mbps downloads all the way up to 350Mbps. More expensive than a lot of fibre to the cabinet offers, but generally more reliable. Upload speeds tend to be about the same with ADSL, fibre to the cabinet and cable, at around a tenth of the rate of downloads.
    Useful for: Gamers, people working from home, those streaming lots of TV or films to various devices.
  • Full fibre broadband – Usually only sold to a very limited number of postcodes, or arranged specifically between the broadband provider and a council or group of residents.
    Can produce gigabit broadband – 1,000Mbps, usually written at 1Gbps. Gigaclear and Hyperoptic are the two main full fibre providers.
    Full fibre is a newer technology than any of the others and so can give households symmetric speeds – uploads and downloads that are markedly the same. Better upload speeds makes it for much better online gaming with less lag, much faster to upload and share work files, to run Skype or other video-calling apps with more than two people, and seamless TV streaming in different rooms with absolutely no chance of buffering.
    Useful for: Speed demons. Rural or out of the way communities who can band together to bring down or share the cost. Inner city communities or new builds where there are multiple residents living nearby.
    Not suitable for: The vast majority of people in the UK – yet. There’s only a couple of million people who can get full fibre at the moment as the networks are really in the early stages of being built.

Bigger picture

Ofcom’s new rules will now demand that all ISPs give customers the full story on the speeds they’re likely to get BEFORE any contracts are signed.

As well as providing an accurate range of expected speeds, including speeds at peak times, ISPs must assure a minimum guaranteed speed to all customers at the point of sale.

In addition, ISPs will be responsible for conducting their own testing to uphold these rules.

This means providers must “make major changes to their systems”, come up with new speed testing methods, and train additional staff.

Cancel contract without paying

Providers that fail to maintain their own promised minimum speeds must then allow customers to end their contract, with zero termination fees.

The rights of customers to exit contracts has also been strengthened by the revised Codes.

Once a customer’s connection has fallen below the minimum guaranteed speed, their ISP is under a strict time limit of 30 days to fix the problem.

Although exceptions can be made for specific circumstances (such as a customer delaying maintenance appointments), this rule obliges companies to fix the problem or lose the customer.

The right to exit has also been extended to cover bundled telephone and TV services that were packaged with a broadband service. This puts extra pressure on major triple-play providers, such as Sky and Virgin, to ensure a continually reliable broadband connection.

These codes are set to apply to all types of broadband technology, using flexible standards and margins of error to provide fair regulation for all current and upcoming networks. Because the capabilities and shortcoming of each type of broadband technology can differ, Ofcom has allowed for provisions that change the ways speeds are measured and estimated, depending on the type of connection being used.

This means there’s little wiggle room for ISPs to get “creative” with their promises, so customers on ADSL (up to 17Mbps), fibre (up to 38Mbps and up to 76Mbps), and Virgin’s cable (50Mbps to 350Mbps), will all be able to benefit from the new rules.

No loyalty to you

However, these new codes still put the responsibility of raising issues and taking action with the customer.

Unfortunately, broadband companies, like many utilities providers, thrive on the complacency of their customers.

ISPs are especially notorious for their significantly inflated rates once customers pass the minimum term of their contracts.

Customer loyalty is frequently abandoned in favor of extortionate prices that profit off complacent customers who fail to realize that their bills have suddenly spiked.

If these companies are willing to abuse their content customers, are they prepared to do the same to their unhappy ones?

Your responsibility, not mine

If customers don’t notice that their speeds have dropped below the minimum guaranteed level, or they simply can’t be bothered to act on it, ISPs can easily continue to charge full price for an unsatisfactory service.

Ofcom’s new rules certainly put some extra power into the hands of customers, but the behavior of ISPs isn’t going to change unless unhappy customers are actually willing to use these measures.

The new rules will come into effect on 1 March 2019, giving providers plenty of time to prepare for the changes.

Samuel Newman author picture


Samuel Newman is a consumer journalist and blogger based in Sheffield.