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Which? Magazine Calls for Broadband ISP Speed Guarantee.. Again

Monday, November 17th, 2014 (9:17 am) - Score 1,052

Consumer magazine Which? has once again called for Internet providers to offer consumers a Broadband Speed Guarantee after its latest online survey of over 2,000 UK adults found that only 5% of people agreed that the way service speeds are currently advertised is the clearest way.

According to the survey, 94% said price was the most important factor influencing their choice of broadband deal, although 88% agreed that the second most important factor was service speed (it’s not clear quite how these questions were formed). Furthermore 25% said they would choose a different deal if they had better information on their broadband speed.

The study also noted that only 12% of respondents were aware of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) rule for broadband speed promotions, which requires that an ISP should be able to demonstrate that its advertised speeds are achievable by at least 10% of users. Most ISPs also provide customers with a sort of “typical speed” range (e.g. “X% of our customers receive speeds between ?Mbit/s and ?Mbit/s”), especially if the line is in an area where slower speeds are more prevalent.

As a result Which?’s “give us broadband speed guaranteed” campaign has called on the ASA to tougher up its rules by 1) requiring all adverts making speed claims (e.g. “superfast”) to quantify these claims, 2) ensure that advertised speeds are available to the majority of customers (i.e. 51% or more), not the minority, and 3) require ISPs to be upfront about how many people can actually get the speed advertised.

Richard Lloyd, Which?’s Executive Director, said:

Internet connection is now an essential part of modern life so it beggars belief that providers can sell people short by advertising speeds that only 10% of customers could receive.

We want advertising watchdogs to pull the plug on confusing adverts and ensure broadband providers show the speeds the majority of customers will actually get.

In the meantime, companies need to be more up-front with customers about the speeds they can expect.”

Interestingly the three demands appear to represent a softer and more balanced tone than the one that Which? took in March 2014 (here), when they also called for the Speed Guarantee to allow people to exit contracts without penalty if they don’t get the promoted speed and to fix a loss of connection as quickly as possible, while also refunding people for the loss of service.

The original demands would have effectively been akin to giving home broadband consumers a business style connection with more SLA flexibility than even businesses get, which while admirable would have also risked a significant price rise and neglected the fact that most infrastructure issues tend to be caused by the underlying BTOpenreach platform rather than the ISP (a complex problem to balance). Obviously that excludes Virgin Media and smaller altnet ISPs, which run their own networks.

Not to mention that Ofcom’s Voluntary Code of Practice on Broadband Speeds, which admittedly not all providers have joined, means that customers can already leave their ISP, without penalty, within the first 3 months of a new contract if a significant problem with their speed cannot be resolved (we can see room for improvement here).

By comparison the new proposals seem to be a lot more grounded, although we can see that a rule focused around the “majority” (51%+) of speed might discourage ISPs from offering services in rural areas or locations where connectivity is already know to be poor. But certainly there’s room for improvement in the rules, just so long as being too strict doesn’t limit choice for some people or force prices into a dramatic rise.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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