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Preview of Ofcom’s New UK Code of Practice for Broadband ISP Speeds

Friday, June 9th, 2017 (1:40 am) - Score 1,261

ISPreview.co.uk has received some information from our industry sources about the direction of Ofcom’s planned revision to their voluntary code of practice for broadband ISP speeds. A consultation on this is expected to be launched within the next month and today we can offer a preview.

At present most of the major ISPs have already signed up to the regulator’s existing code (here), which among other things requires them to explain to new customers the access line speeds that they’re likely to achieve at home, and to try to resolve any problems when speeds fall significantly below the estimate (or offer the option to exit a contract penalty free). A similar code exists for business connections (here).

As part of this consumers’ should receive a personal estimate of download speed during the sign-up process (assuming your ISP is a member of the code), which reflects the 20th and 80th percentile speeds to be provided (i.e. an estimated range of possible performance for your line). An estimate of the minimum line speed (10th percentile) is also available upon request. See the example below from an FTTC line on Vodafone.

vodafone personal speed estimate

Earlier this year the regulator proposed to make a few tweaks to this code, such as by updating the personal speed estimates in order to reflect the impact of network contention. We now know more about what this will actually mean.

Under the enhanced approach we expect that consumers will receive an estimate for the maximum speed at off-peak times (80th percentile speed), as well as the “normally available speed” at busy times (80th-20th percentile speeds), the minimum speed at peak times (10th percentile speed) and of course the advertised speed. The guidance also looks as if it might apply to both download and upload speeds.

A Spokesperson for Ofcom told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We’ve said that we aim to improve broadband speed information by revising our voluntary codes of practice. We are discussing with industry ways to improve speed estimates and ensure effective redress when speeds fall below a minimum. We haven’t yet finalised our plans, but any proposals would be consulted on publicly.”

At this point the details are not yet set in stone but we understand that the changes may include a requirement for ISPs to carry out speedtests in order to create the “normally available speed” value, which would be very problematic for smaller providers or those that have only just entered the market. A question mark also hangs over the definition of how Ofcom will define peak and off-peak times.

In practice the peak (busy) times can vary between ISPs, particularly if one provider has more business (daytime dominated) than residential (evening + weekend dominated) traffic, which would mean that some providers may end up competing on an uneven playing field. Another question mark also looms over whether the code itself will become mandatory for all ISPs, although we understand that Ofcom currently favours the voluntary approach.

As state earlier, the official consultation on this is due to launch very soon. A draft proposal from Ofcom is currently being circulated among certain ISPs, although once proposed it could take up to a year before the changes are fully implemented and enforced.

Leave a Comment
12 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris P says:

    How does this proposal deal with the scenario where there is unexpected congestion or technical fault close to the data destination which slows the users reported speeds but is beyond the practical responsibility of the ISP?

    That destination could be a speed test site, an internet exchange like LINX, website like BA’s during their recent issues etc.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Hopefully we’ll find out when the consultation is published, although Ofcom has a tendency to avoid dealing with the complicated supply / remote network side issues when setting new consumer policy.

    2. Avatar NGA for all says:

      It is practical to tighten up on the line access speed, and if we are lucky end to end throughput plus packet loss, delay, jitter to Linx during the busiest 15 minutes, but the latter is unlikely. Beyond that ISPs can do very little.

  2. Avatar New_Londoner says:

    The problem is that most people seem unable to understand even the most basic information (e.g. the original “up to” approach). I see no point in moving to a requirement for ever more complicated information being provided, which most people won’t understand anyway.

    Let’s go back to the original system but with a mandatory speed estimate before contracting. Ideally, let people exit a contract at any point without penalty if the connection fails to meet (or at least get within a certain % of) that estimate for more than a defined % of the time.

    1. Avatar TheFacts says:

      How do you deal with dodgy home wiring and wifi?

    2. Avatar Steve Jones says:

      So how is this to be measured given the number of variables involved, including dodgy wiring, WiFi congestion, backgrounds loads and so on. It would be possible to send an engineer along and measure performance under controlled conditions. However, that won’t work if it’s a % of the time figure. The whole thing is replete with practical problems. Much of my IT career involved service metrics, and that was difficult enough to measure even in a relatively controlled environment.

  3. Avatar Steve Jones says:

    Is this going to apply to VM too? Whilst the “up to” part is clearly not relevant, the part about what real world rates might be expected during peak periods does, surely, applies to all technologies. Of course it’s fiendishly difficult to defined the way under which representative tests can be run given all the possible variables and confounding factors that might appear with end-to-end tests, some of which are specific to particular technologies, some of which are common.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I’m guessing so since Virgin Media are members of the current code, although it remains to be seen if there are any specific caveats or exclusions for their cable network.

  4. Avatar Paul says:

    Lots of potential problems with this putting to one side the questionable when is peak time for an ISP issues the most obvious problem at the moment is the part that says “The guidance also looks as if it might apply to both download and upload speeds”

    Half of those that are currently signed up to Ofcoms voluntary code of practice do not even quote upload speeds on their main product pages and that goes for both BT and Virgin.

    Mind you if it is again “voluntary” i guess like now they can do as they please.

  5. Avatar Daniel Spurr says:

    currently in a battle with origin broadband because of speeds, this code of practice needs to be mandatory. if a provider can’t provide speeds between the estimates given you at signup, you can cancel contract with said ISP, the ISP shouldn’t be able to charge full term of contract. and I cancelled within 12 hours of the broadband going live. estimated speeds were 13-17mbps what they provided 10.69mbps at the highest this was in May they still haven’t cancelled the account and just tried to bill me £40.67 on an £18.99 a month contract, I have returned the modem/router which has been signed for so I know they have it.

    anyway a cooling of period is one thing but a 14day returns policy after service activation so you can test the speeds provided and if necessary make arrangements with another provider.

    companies like Origin shouldn’t be able to make a profit on cancellations.

    1. Avatar MikeW says:

      Were there any contract conditions attached to what to do about a low speed?

      IIRC, Openreach does have conditions if you get a speed that is too low: let them do something about it. If they can’t fix it *then* your ISP can withdraw without penalty.

      If Origin are liable to be on the hook for these fees, because Openreach weren’t given the chance to fix anything, it seems reasonable they’d pass them on to you.

      Cancelling within 12 hours certainly means Openreach haven’t had a chance to do anything, but did you attempt to get Origin to fix anything?

      The question of what contract conditions Origin had, and what happened in those 12 hours, is probably key.

  6. Avatar dragoneast says:

    Couldn’t we just avoid the need for all these contortions by banning any minimum contract notice period of more than one month, for everyone? Competition is then on the one thing that is measurable, price.

    Oh, silly me. The Regulations don’t allow it. As always, the hardest part is working our way round the rules. More complexity and more argument that way. That’s what we like, most of all. It makes work and gives us something to do, namely talk (= moan) about.

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