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UK Broadband ISPs Failing to Provide Enough Speed Information

Friday, March 23rd, 2018 (7:53 am) - Score 872

A new Mystery Shopper study conducted by consumer magazine Which? has revealed that major broadband ISPs are only giving the required information about connection speeds under Ofcom’s Code of Practice (CoP) less than half (47%) of the time, with some (e.g. TalkTalk) doing worse than others.

At present Ofcom’s voluntary CoP for residential broadband speeds requires, among other things, that ISPs provide customers with their estimated home speeds “as early as practicable” within the sales process (e.g. after sharing your address). On top of that they must also explain that speeds can be influenced by a range of factors, such as network capacity and the number of subscribers to the service.

In order to do this the study called each provider 12 times using mystery shoppers in January 2018, who gave them an address for the property they were hypothetically moving to. The results recorded whether sales agents gave all of the information currently recommended by Ofcom’s CoP, without being asked for it.

Interestingly Which?’s study also assessed whether any ISPs were able to meet Ofcom’s future and much stricter requirements (here), which have only recently been announced and aren’t due to be enforced until March 2019. The future code requires ISPs to also inform customers about their minimum guaranteed speeds upfront, along with details about the speeds that people can expect at peak times. As you’d expect, most ISPs struggled.

The Results

The code itself is voluntary and it’s noted that some of the ISPs involved were not officially signed up to it, although interestingly many of those that there not members of the CoP still managed to outperform a few of those that there (see below for details).

Overall TalkTalk came bottom of the table by only providing information about estimated speeds five times out of 12 and Vodafone were close behind. However it’s interesting to note the difference in how TalkTalk and Vodafone responded to this poor showing.

A TalkTalk Spokesperson said:

“We always strive to provide customers with fair and accurate information at the point of sale. The Resident Broadband Speeds Code of Practice requires us to provide specific information before a sale is agreed. The mystery shopping calls were all terminated before this point in the sales journey. Therefore based on the information provided by Which?, we are confident that we fully complied with the Code.

Our sales team received tens of thousands of inbound calls in January so we don’t believe the twelve calls made by Which? mystery shoppers can be seen as representative of our service.”

A Spokesperson for Vodafone added:

“We strive to provide customers with clear and accurate information on what speeds they can expect from our home broadband service. Therefore, it’s disappointing that we didn’t provide full details of available speeds on each of the twelve times your research team called us. We’ve taken the information you have provided us on board as we continually look to improve our communications to customers.”

At the opposite end we find that Sky Broadband faired the best and their pre-prepared statement, in which speed data is outlined to potential customers (e.g. estimated speeds and additional advice on 21 out of 24 occasions), helped to put them ahead of the pack. Zen Internet also did extremely well. Ofcom’s study of consumer complaints also tends to rate Sky well by receiving the fewest gripes among the major ISPs (here).

NOTE: Virgin Media are signed up to the current code but Which? chose not to include them since they don’t use Openreach’s (BT) national UK network and are not subject to the rules of the code in the same way. Curiously they also excluded them from the test of compliance with Ofcom’s future code, which is odd since the regulator has adapted the new code to include cable providers.

Test of Ofcom’s Current CoP Requirements

CoP Signatory Times estimated speed given Times advice about speeds offered
Sky Broadband 12 9
Zen Internet 12 2
SSE 12 1
BT 12 0
Utility Warehouse 10 0
Plusnet 10 0
Post Office 10 0
John Lewis Broadband 9 0
EE 8 0
Vodafone 7 0
TalkTalk 5 0

Test of Ofcom’s Future 2019 CoP Requirements

CoP Signatory Times a minimum guaranteed speed given Times a peak-time speed given
Zen Internet 11 0
EE Broadband 7 0
Vodafone 6 0
Utility Warehouse 5 0
Sky Broadband 3 0
John Lewis Broadband 2 0
Plusnet 2 0
TalkTalk 2 0
BT 0 0
Post Office 0 0
SSE 0 0

In response to the results, Ofcom said that “providers need to up their game … our own mystery shopping showed that compliance has been getting better, but it also raised some concerns that we’ve raised with providers“. Similarly Which?’s MD of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill, called on ISPs to “implement the new rules quickly and update their advice as soon as they can so that customers have a clearer picture about what they’re getting.”

At this point it’s worth considering that most people are likely to switch ISP by using a provider’s website rather than making a phone call, with the online path being both significantly quicker and also making all of the necessary information clearer (sadly this method was not tested).

Meanwhile TalkTalk’s response may also suggest that Which?’s mystery shoppers might have been a bit too quick to hang up, although others clearly accepted that there is room for improvement.

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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.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Optimist says:

    How can an ISP promise a performance level when the speeds achievable depend on contention over the ISP’s own network and the performance of other networks?

    They might as well castigate car manufacturers for the fact that vehicles fail to run consistently at 70 mph on the M25 during the evening peak hour.

    And the answer is the same – if you want maximum speed all the time you need your own network – whether on the internet or the roads.

  2. Mike says:

    “How can an ISP promise a performance level when the speeds achievable depend on contention over the ISP’s own network and the performance of other networks?”

    Contention does not not into advertised speeds or estimate advertised speed you will get.

    “They might as well castigate car manufacturers for the fact that vehicles fail to run consistently at 70 mph on the M25 during the evening peak hour.”

    Using that logic and your contention logic you are saying all ISPs should advertise a speed of 0Mbps no matter the product.

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