/ Technology

How does new Ofcom boss say she’ll improve services for you?

Today we hosted the first public speech by Ofcom’s new Chief Executive Sharon White as she set out how she plans to make it easier for you to switch to a better deal and get the services you’ve been promised.

Under Ofcom’s new proposalsyou’ll be able leave your broadband contracts without penalty if you don’t get what is promised, and providers will need to give better information on the broadband speeds you’ll realistically get.

We know unreliable broadband speeds drive you crazy, so it’s great see the regulator taking action.

Sharon was joined on the panel by Which? Executive Director Richard Lloyd, TalkTalk’s Chairman, Sir Charles Dunstone, and Openreach Chief Executive of Openreach, Joe Garner, before an audience of consumers, Which? supporters and industry people.

So, how else does Ofcom plan to improve things for you?

Simpler switching and better information

The panel was quizzed on issues including why you have to pay to unlock your mobile handset and what Ofcom is going to do about making bills clearer, so you know what you are paying for. Sharon White outlined four key ways the industry needs to improve:

  • Easier switching: making it simpler to switch, including being able to cancel without unfair penalties and coordination between providers for a smooth transfer
  • Better information: Making available clear and accurate information in advertising and at point of sale, so you can genuinely compare offers and make effective choices
  • Improved contract terms: Clear and fair terms with no hidden charges or lock-ins
  • Better complaints handling: Setting out simple steps when you wish to complain or when things go wrong. It means doing everything possible to avoid a dispute in the first place, including the chance for you to ‘walk away’ when services fall short. It also means clear signposting of alternative dispute resolution services – which are free to use.

So what’s our verdict?

Which? Executive Director Richard LloydWe’ve been calling for changes to make it easier to switch telecoms providers, so we’re pleased to see it’s a priority for Ofcom. We also look forward to swift action to tackle other problems facing customers, including competition in the communications market.

We think this is an encouraging start by the new chief executive, particularly at a time when Ofcom faces big challenges.

We look forward to working with her to ensure consumers have more power to drive competition and growth among the best businesses, while protecting those who are vulnerable.

What do you think of the changes that Ofcom is planning?

Comments
Guest
JIM says:
14 June 2015

How else can you put pressure on these providers to provide what we are paying for. The best way is if you can exit their poor services as quickly as possible, and if every body leaves a certain provider at the same time so that they do not have ANY CUSTOMERS at all. Then you might get the providers to provide what we are prepared to pay for. PEOPLE POWER IS THE ANSWER.

Guest
John says:
16 June 2015

Spoken by someone who has an alternative.

If you need broadband, but have no alternative provider, then you are stuck. The “service” providers know this !!!!

We have no-one to switch to so it is extremely annoying to see Hi Speed broadband being offered by al these companies at half price or even free for a year, when I am paying full whack for an ancient broadband service. Am I out in the stocks? No, I’m in Commercial Street in London, on the edge of “the square mile” and BT say it is not economic for a fibre cab to be erected! God help anyone in the country!

Guest
Ed Powell says:
18 June 2015

I live in a rural area where it is a misnomer to refer to us receiving authentic broadband. Speeds are slow and we lose connectivity on a regular basis. In effect, we have paid Talk Talk for an inadequate service. I have raised a number of complaint issues with this provider. TT’s responses to these issues have been unacceptable; believing apologies without remedial action constitutes effective customer care. As a result,I have referred the matter to the Ombudsman. I have also sent a second letter to Baroness Harding, TT’s CEO, who has not had the courtesy to respond. The manager who responded to the issues demonstrated a lack of appreciation of the key issues. I wanted to share with this forum, my specific concern about TT’s diagnostic speed tool which, and in the presence of a TT engineer, gave invalid and unreliable readings. This raises an important question: how valid and reliable on a nationwide level is this tool ? I shall be switching as soon as possible without penalty. Should TT have the timerity apply a financial penalty,given their unacceptable service, they will be whistling in the wind.

Guest
Jim Holt says:
14 June 2015

It is 35 years since I purchased my first mobile phone. I remember it well it was like carrying a building block around. The service provider at that time was Vodaphone. Im still with Vodaphone and quite frankly, the quality of signal is no better now than all those years ago. Isnt it about time with all the expensive charges that these organisations have been charging, that they provide us with good signal service wherever we may be? Im fed up to the back teeth of standing on 1 foot, in the middle of a field with my back to the sun waving the phone around like a demented flag bearer in order to get a signal – its totally unacceptable. When the wind blows our landline invariably goes down. It then needs me to get in my car, travel 5 miles in order to get a signal to inform BT that the landline isn’t working. This is also not a very good experience as Im usually kept on line listening to piped music, at my expense whilst they take their time to answer. Considering this organisation is in the business of communications – beggars belief? The last time that I did this it cost me over £20.00 in extra mobile charges! When eventually they do put their cups down and stop chatting about the previous evenings Emmerdale, It then takes BT 2 weeks to get around to fixing the problem. Oh and then they have the audacity to say that if the fault is in my house then they will charge me £99.00. I already pay a massive service charge for my landline – I suggest that if I have to pay extra why am I being charged a service charge in the first place. It is obvious, like all the other “utilities” that the government has sold off to foreigners that they simply are not interested in customer service, just extorting as much money from their customers as they can possibly get.

Guest
twistedone says:
15 June 2015

isit not time you did what other people seem reluctant to do and awitch both land line and mobile,or are you one of the multitude of moners who would rather moan about something than doing somthing about it

Guest
Mazza says:
18 June 2015

That is a totally unacceptable reply Twistedone. As previously commented, some of us have no choice of mobile supplier or broadband supplier, and anyway, in the end it comes back to BT. All that would happen if one was with another supplier, is that you phone them, they then contact BT Openreach whose engineers have to sort it. It would be unlikely that the service or time-frame would be much different. It would be good if those on this blog who DO have a good service, would accept that those of us who dont have done a raft of things to try to get better service. We dont just sit here and moan. We do switch, we do write letters and emails (when we can get online) and make phone calls, but invariably it gets us nowhere. I have spent far more time on this issue than on any other service or insurance etc over the past 10 years. We are in the 21st century and to not have acceptable mobile and BB signals is unacceptable.

Guest
Ed Powell says:
18 June 2015

With you all the way.

Guest
zak says:
14 June 2015

About time the brake from profit before service and fat cats hope it is the start for good

Guest
Gordon Ames says:
14 June 2015

Well done all and Sharon White, please keep up the pressure. I like my package from talk-talk but I am fed up with the call centre not being in the U.K. There are also times that the speed really gets me down. I have been with talk-talk for a long time now but I am beginning to look around. I am also fed up to the teeth with B.T. and there snotty attitude I have asked them to remove me from there mailing list so many time and they just ignore my request and the last phone call had me hanging on for just under 30 minuets. B.T would be the last company that I would ever go to.
Go for it Sharon I wish you well in your job. pastor Gordon Ames.

Profile photo of LornaHill
Guest

I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed with BT too as their call centres are not based in the UK either. It’s really annoying when you have a query about your telecoms & you get someone with a strong asian accent on the line who doesn’t have a clue about who you are, where you live, whether it is in an urban or rural situation & who is answering from a script verbatim & with a really bad understanding of UK English. I know it’s a huge amount cheaper for BT & other companies to use offshore call centres in the Philippines, Africa, India & Pakistan but it does nothing for their customer service record at all. If a company is based in the UK then that’s where the call centres should be.

Guest
John says:
17 June 2015

Agree totally Lorna, except for one thing. Call centres abroad were cheaper back 5 or 10 years ago. They aren’t now. UK call centres are cheap with mainly poor salaries. Some corporates have bitten the bullet and taken the hit on costs for moving their call centres back to the UK because they realise the issues you mention affect their brand image badly. Sadly telcos stay abroad because they do not consider their customers other than being cash cows.

An example being BT that has the network monopoly for most of the UK outside cabled areas, and just milk it for huge profits with minimal investment on the infrastructure. Just enough to appease the politicians in Downing Street, who let’s be fair, have no real clue of the world outside the SE of England.

Ms. White will have no more effect on the telco industry than any of her predecessors because ger office has no clout given to them by government. Always “ticks in the box” for little meaningless things instead of ticks in the box for the major issues consumers UK WIDE want..

Guest
Mark Smith says:
14 June 2015

Broadband speed is only part of the problem-there are still many areas in the UK today where you can’t even get a decent mobile phone signal which is totally unacceptable.

Guest
Nigel Gibbs says:
14 June 2015

I have been left with no other option than to leave TalkTalk, as of March 5th 2015 they stated they were enhancing AOL internet !!!, since that date I have contacted there so called customer service dept. all seem to be located some were in the Indian Ocean !!! over 10 times, to be placated with that ” this time TalkTalk ” will get the problem sorted. every time I log on to AOL TalkTalk it takes me to the old version then states my password is not correct ?then I re-enter the same password and it logs on, then after 3 mins it freezes so I have to refresh again & again up to 20 times a day, of course in the service message box from TalkTalk they keep stating that there engineers have corrected the problem !!!!, so after 3 months of unworkable internet service I decided to leave TalkTalk they then have the Gaul to say as I am leaving 6 weeks early they will charge me £29.00 for the privilege of breaking the contract were as in fact they have been the one’s not giving “internet service fit for purpose” TalkTalk should be paying me back 3 months of fees. I am disgusted with their attitude &so called service, how can I get my £29.00 refunded.

Nigel Gibbs

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Guest

Hi Nigel, we’re sorry to hear that you’ve had some problems leaving your contract early.

As you’re trying to cancel before the minimum contract term is up, you’ll have to pay an early termination fee. However, we’ve published lots of advice about what you can do if your broadband service is constantly interrupted, here:

http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/problem/my-broadband-service-is-often-interrupted-what-can-i-do

Have you considered joining the Which? Legal Service, too?:

http://legalservice.which.co.uk/

The lawyers in Which? Legal can advise on lots of consumer problems about goods and services.
Whichever route you use for help, we hope you’re able to get this matter resolved.

Guest
Patrick McCall says:
14 June 2015

About time something was done about slow broadband speeds. They don’t have much hassle in Europe only here in good old rip-off Britain. Mobile phone companies are also a pain in the a**e in this country. Everyone of them thinks they are doing you a favour letting you use their overpriced phone company. It’s all sales and no service and their prices are higher than Europe.

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Guest

I would like to see greater enforcement of EU roaming price caps, which will no doubt be a problem again on 1st July 2015. The price caps specified in EUR without VAT in Articles 8(2), 10(2) and 13(2) of Regulation (EU) No 531/2012 are not subject to any reduction on 1st July 2015. However, in accordance with Article 1(7) the EUR/GBP rate is recalculated each year by taking the average of the rates published in the Official Journal of the European Union on 1st March 2015, 1st April 2015 and 1st May 2015, which is 0.72727, some 12% lower than the average of 0.82581 for the same dates in 2014. Consequently the price caps from 1st July 2015 in GBP will be £0.1382/min (£0.1658/min incl VAT) for outgoing calls, £0.0364/min (£0.0436/min incl VAT) for incoming calls, £0.0436 (£0.0524 incl VAT) for outgoing SMS and £0.1455/MB (£0.1745/MB incl VAT) for data. Given that most UK mobile networks set their EEA roaming prices at almost the maximum allowed by the price caps, they will have to reduce their charges by at least 12% on 1st July 2015. Based on past experience, a lot of networks will fail to comply.

UK VAT of 20% is added only when roaming inside the EU VAT area, but not when roaming in parts of the European Union and wider European Economic Area that are outside the EU VAT area, specifically Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Gibraltar, the Åland Islands, French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion, the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, in accordance with Article 19 of the Value Added Tax (Place of Supply of Services) Order 1992. This is because the United Kingdom opted to exempt non-EU VAT area roaming from UK VAT under Article 9(3)(a) of Council Directive 77/388 (“the Sixth VAT Directive”) so that it could charge UK VAT on services used in the UK but billed outside the EU (e.g. US-based services marketed to UK residents). Some UK mobile networks exceed the roaming price caps by adding 20% VAT that isn’t due, and Ofcom should take action against them.

Guest
John says:
17 June 2015

If the last comment in NFH;s post is correct, what are Which doing about it? I see Which Legal comment on here occasionally. Any comments Legal?

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Guest

Good stuff NFH.

You will also be on my list of consumer heroes. : ) Along with socketman and the women from OERML

Guest
Michael O'Connor says:
14 June 2015

Well done Which along with people power, it’s long overdue ISP’s giving out broadband speeds which they know majority of customers will never get a decent speed, i am so pleased for this ruling at last a winner for Justice and the customer.

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Guest

Hi Michael, thanks so much. At the moment most people don’t know that the speeds quoted in broadband ads only need to be available to 10% of customers. That’s why we are calling providers to give the majority of customers the speeds they’re promised in ads.

Guest
Stewart says:
14 June 2015

A welcome move in the right direction.

How about been able to sue your provider to get all the money back for having a pathetic service, if this was possible it would certainly make a better service.

Guest
Dr Bernard Mooney says:
14 June 2015

Hey on earth should one have a penalty to change provider

Guest
Dr Bernard Mooney says:
14 June 2015

Why on earth should one have a penalty to change provider

Guest
Martin stern says:
14 June 2015

I couldn’t agree more.

Guest
Susie Rowles says:
15 June 2015

What really annoys me is that we pay for superfast broadband but only get .5 meg! Why don’t I pay a discounted price? I must be paying for the BT adverts.

Guest
mrs c lees says:
15 June 2015

My broadband freezers a lot and other times it cuts out altogether I am on BT and I don’t find it very fast at all .

Guest
Reg Whale says:
15 June 2015

I am just less than 1 mile from the telephone exchange, I sit with my laptop 3 feet from my router,
I have filters fitted in the ‘phone wall plug. The main plug is right behind my armchair. Yet I am only able to get a download speed of 6.4. Have told Talk Talk about this on numerous occasions, who (a)doesn’t think my D/L speed is bad (just within their range) and (b) any problem in this respect is likely to be due to something connected with my internal set-up!
I am frequently ‘invited’ to have their super fibre one for a reduced price for 6 months’.
Find it a bit frustrating..

Guest
Mazza says:
18 June 2015

I do have sympathy with you here as you are not getting the speed you were told. However, we are licky to get 0.5mbs. We all need to stick together so we all get a decent speed. Its not your fault, but people like me with such dire speeds have to laugh a little when others complain about only getting 6mbs! Please dont take this personally, its just an indication of how bad this whole issue is. Incidentally, we all pay the advertised tarrif whether we get half a meg or twenty. How can that be fair?

Profile photo of Patrick Taylor
Guest

As I understand it if you connected by cable to your lap-top I expect you will find your speed is increased. The reason is that with wireless you are encrypting and decrypting the wireless signal which means there is an additionla overhead of signals.

Guest
Colin Greaves says:
23 June 2015

Completely agree. We get 1.5mbs if we’re lucky, frequent problems with poor connection. We are in effect subsidising the many people who get a decent speed. We live in a rural area but only about 8 miles as the crow flies to Lincoln, so not exactly remote! We don’t use a wireless connection. Absolutely disgusted about the way things are going. Our ;local County Councillor is doing her very best to ensure that some of the government money for after broadband is spent on our area but probably only people in villages not scattered dwellings like ours will benefit.

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Guest

Speak to your council Colin

Perhaps in Lincolnshire this would be the answer for superfast broadband – line of sight wireless. I was associated with a small company setting it up for a locality over a decade ago so its not a new concept.

http://www.boundlesscomms.com/home-broadband/

Guest
James McGrory says:
15 June 2015

I recently had a total failure of my phone – although my broadband access remained OK! TalkTalk responded that my line checked-out OK!
Assuming problem to be my own handset, I bought a new one – but the phone problem persisted!
I changed to alternative provider, who agreed (when field/installation-engineer checked) that the problem lay in local sub-station – and rectified the problem within half-hour!
It seems that (despite all techno-babble, about wireless, fibre-optic, etc) there remain fundamental faults in our local (ground-wired) infrastructure!?
This seems to be still in BT’s bailliewick – which requires fundamental upgrading!

Guest
Tim McBride says:
15 June 2015

Broadband providers should have to state a minimum speed, not just an “up to” speed. If they do not provide that speed, compensation should be paid ( similar to e.g. Electricity or water providers compensating if we are cut off)
If they continue to break the contract they have made regarding speed, we should be free to leave

Guest
Martin stern says:
15 June 2015

Yes I agree with all that you’ve said

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Guest

I have no problem with a minimum speed requirement provided it is at the point of entry of the line on a regulated piece of kit.

I have seen neighbours park their router at the bottom of cupboards, with large objects in the way etc etc etc. You cannot reasonably expect that the provider should be responsible for what happens in the owners property and how they use it. The other two problems are contention ratios and sites visited which both can slow service.

Incidentally when my children visited the number of wi-fi devices they carry and use was sufficient to knock my lap-top off the network. Perhaps Which? has done an educational piece on these matters??

So bya ll means

Profile photo of Mikel
Guest

Thanks Which for trying, but this response by Ofcom shows just what a pathetic overseer it is! The ISP’s will laugh at Ofcom’s weak slap of the wrist and carry on lying about quality of service and Broadband speeds. Companies who make false claims and fail to openly inform their clients of service restrictions Usually throttling the bandwidth at busy times) should be fined a suitable amount that acts as a deterrent. The whole Broadband/Fibre Optic/ mobile communications market is full of scams fleecing the public. Ofcom needs tougher people working to improve services for long suffering paying customers. They currently seem to employ more timid commercial negotiators.

Guest
Mr. R. Holgate says:
16 June 2015

NAME AND SHAME, simple!

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Guest

Great news and well done your team but mind and watch the back door because they will quickly find another way to screw us. After their only God is money!

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Guest

Thanks for the support wilnor – it’s really appreciated! 🙂

Guest
Sue says:
16 June 2015

No more comments please

Guest
John says:
17 June 2015

Why?

Guest
John says:
17 June 2015

SWITCH SWITCH SWITCH.

Every regulatory offices’ answer to any consumer issues! Many of us can’t, and I just wish these regulators would come into the real world.

I own a shop in London. We have BT 1st generation ADSL networked over copper. A maximum speed about 17Mbps if we are lucky. There is fibre in the exchange but no fibre cab to move us up a generation. Will there be? No. I have had this directly from BT’s head of infrastructure Investment. Why? Because it is not cost effective to create a new fibre cab.

We are on the edge of the City of London within 200m of Liverpool Street station! If it can’t be cost effective there, where can it?

I worked in Seoul in S. Korea about 20 years ago. They had total 100Mbps broadband coverage across the city then. If you wanted it you got it. By late next year early 2017 I understand Seoul will have total 10Gbps broadband. Whereas many parts of London at the same time will still be living with the technology of the 90’s!!!!!

As will much of the rest of the UK, outside of some major population centres. I actually live in Wales and here BT are flanelling the Welsh Assembly Government. They are ticking all the boxes with regard fibre exchanges being up, but in reality BT are not delivering the fibre to consumers. Our exchange was fibre enabled nearly two years ago, but very few customers on the exchange have a fibre cab so they can actually use the fibre.

BT’s excuses across the UK used to be the exchanges but now they use the Cabs as an excuse for not providing a 21st century service. Basically, they are not prepared to fully invest so they can continue pay high dividends to shareholders and huge salaries and bonuses to their execs.

Remember that the BT network was a national asset we all owned. It’s one of the most important parts of the country’s infrastructure and it is the Government’s duty to act on this, or as a country we are going to lag further and further behind the rest of the the industrial world. Ofcom and Ms. White are toothless without real proactive support from Government.

Radical thought: divert just a year’s Foreign Aid budget to investment in telco modernisation would be a huge help. Actually AIDING ourselves. What a novel idea!

Guest
Ian says:
17 June 2015

BT – It seems to get slower every day!

Guest
James F says:
17 June 2015

Back in the 80’s I was getting speeds of 650kps I am now paying greatly increased prices to bt for broadband speeds maximum speeds of 250kps decreasing to 180kps. Of course Bt will never admitt that there is any faults in the lines and the fault lies within the customer’s premises. I have a friend who is an ex bt cisco engineer who wired up internals to the highest standard. I even changed routers to a much better quality one than what bt supply (bthub4). This still does’t speed things up any. These providers should only be allowed to charge for the speed and quality that they provide. I feel it is wrong to charge people like myself the same price that some can get for a service in excess of 10 times better.

Guest
Richard baker says:
17 June 2015

Too true
Money is their God same as most companies now

Guest
Martin stern says:
18 June 2015

Yes I agree with that

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Guest

Is there a transcript of the meeting please?

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Guest

Hi diesel, unfortunately not, I’m afraid to say. The event was jointly held by ourselves and Ofcom, and no transcript/filming was produced.

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Guest

It does seem a little remiss that a meeting is held and these matters discussed but no one records it! Ofcom thinks Which? was organising it.

The speech as written in full
11 June 2015
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive
Which? Conference, 11 June

” I am delighted to be here today in such distinguished company. I am very grateful to Richard Lloyd and his team at Which? for being such generous hosts today.

I joined as Ofcom Chief Executive at the end of March and this is my first speech in my new role.

Introduction

I was very clear that I wanted to make consumers and citizens the subject of my first public speech.

Serving the interest of consumers and citizens – by which I mean individual customers and businesses as well as the wider public – is at the very heart of Ofcom’s work.

It is set out in Ofcom’s founding statute – the 2003 Communications Act:

“It shall be the principal duty of Ofcom, in carrying out their functions;

a) to further the interests of citizens in relation to communications matters; and
b) to further the interests of consumers in relevant markets, where appropriate by promoting competition.”

When Ofcom was established, access to a reliable internet connection or mobile phone was a ‘nice to have’.

Now it is essential to the functioning of the economy, to the way people work and live their lives. It has become a necessity in the same way as gas or electricity or running water.

And as public services are increasingly delivered on-line and communities connect to each other through social networks, communications are becoming fundamental to civic life.

People legitimately expect and demand more from their communications than ever before. Service failure, where once an inconvenience, can today be very costly for people in terms of loss of business, disrupted access to public services or social isolation.

And it is the most vulnerable – people who are socially, economically or geographically dislocated – who are at greatest risk of being left behind.

One of my top priorities as Ofcom Chief Executive is to work with government, consumer groups, industry, and other interested parties to ensure that the benefits of a burgeoning and buoyant communications sector can be enjoyed by all.

In my remarks today I want to cover three areas:

First, Ofcom’s approach to consumer issues and how it has evolved over time;

Secondly, the progress made over the last decade; and

Thirdly, how Ofcom plans – working with others – to improve our collective response.

Ofcom’s approach

So let me begin with Ofcom’s approach.

As a regulator, Ofcom has a very distinct role to play in furthering consumer and citizen interests.

We are not government: we do not set policy. For instance, policies that guarantee universal broadband access.

We are not a consumer advocacy group, unlike Which? that plays such a critical and impressive role as an advocate for the consumer.

As a regulator, our job is to ensure that markets work for consumers and citizens, principally by encouraging competition.

Where markets don’t work well enough – or where competition alone isn’t enough to secure good outcomes for consumers – then we have powers to intervene.

We are a light touch regulator. We regulate only when there is not a better alternative. And whenever we do step in, we need to demonstrate that the benefit to consumers outweighs the cost of intervention.

Ofcom’s approach has evolved over time.

In our early days we were particularly focused on action to promote competition:

So, for example, we opened up choice in the broadband market by requiring BT to supply wholesale providers like TalkTalk and Sky.
And we reduced mobile termination rates in order to bring down charges for calls to mobile phones, helping to level the playing field between small and large operators.

We have also taken enforcement action against companies engaged in scams and other bad behaviour:

Taking action against the firms that make nuisance calls, imposing fines of up to £750,000. An issue Which? is rightly campaigning on.
We have also issued fines up to £3 million – including to Three, TalkTalk and BT – for bad complaints handling, issuing bills for services that had not been provided and delays.
We’ve driven down mis-selling.
And we intervened to ensure price changes in contracts are transparent, and that consumers can walk away from contracts if they are not.

Over time, we have increasingly sought to make consumers more empowered by giving them the data and tools to make informed choices:

So in 2009 we started publishing broadband speeds.
Since 2011 we have published data on the complaints that we receive in Ofcom against the major communications providers.
In 2011 we sped up the process to switch your mobile phone number to a new provider, and banned contracts for landline and broadband services that automatically rolled forward.
This year we will complete work to make landline and broadband switching easier.

We have also used our regulatory tools to widen the availability of communications to people who for reasons of vulnerability or geography risked being left behind:

we mandated changes to the text relay service, the service which provides voice to text translation for people whose hearing is impaired, so that it now works on a range of devices at home and on the move.
In our auction of spectrum – the valuable radiowaves necessary for wireless communication – for 4G mobile, we stipulated that one successful bidder had to provide mobile coverage for at least 98 per cent of the UK by 2017.
This year we are publishing interactive maps on mobile coverage so that people can see in their own locality what coverage they should be getting and feed back if their service falls short.

And we have laid out clear rules for companies about the quality of service they should be delivering for consumers and businesses:

For example, we have set new installation and repair targets on Openreach, the arm of BT that manages millions of lines for BT and its competitors.

In all of this work, we have gathered and considered the views of others, and sought to intervene only when it is justified by evidence.

Everyone who works in Ofcom has a strong consumer and citizen focus. As our approach has evolved and developed over the years, so we have devoted more resource to specific consumer issues and adapted our organisational structures to reflect this focus.

Progress made

Let me now move on to the progress that we’ve made.

If you look at how well the market for communications is delivering for consumers and citizens today compared to ten years ago, on many measures you would count it a success.

Most consumers are getting better value and greater choice than before thanks to competition and innovation in the sector:

Nearly a third of homes with fixed broadband had a superfast service at the end of 2014, compared to 1 per cent at the end of 2010.
Between 2008 and 2014 average residential fixed broadband download speeds increased six-fold – from 3.6Mbit/s to 22.8 Mbit/s, enough to support multiple High Definition video streams.
The choice of TV channels has increased thanks to digitisation, from just over 200 in 2002 to more than 500 today.
Consumers are increasingly watching TV online, with both free and paid for on-demand services enabling access to a library of thousands of films and TV programmes.
UK prices are amongst the lowest in Europe and compare well against the US, with the price of a typical mobile package down by over two thirds since 2003.

Ofcom’s annual customer satisfaction survey shows that people are generally happy with their communications. And their satisfaction has steadily improved over time.
Complaints to Ofcom are on the decline.

These are positive indicators.

But there is a more challenging picture behind the headline statistics.

The fact that mobile coverage – that’s 2G – reaches 98 per cent of people’s homes and offices still leaves 2 per cent or half a million premises without coverage.

The situation is particularly challenging in rural areas. In some coastal areas of West Wales, 7 per cent of premises don’t have coverage; in the Shetland Islands in Scotland it’s 8 per cent; while 11 per cent of homes and offices in Newry & Morne on the east coast of Northern Ireland don’t have 2G mobile coverage.

Across the UK, going on for one half of SMEs have yet to be offered access to superfast broadband.

So access and reliability remain a problem for an important minority. My postbag of MPs’ letters shows that people are sometimes frustrated by the service that they are getting.

We also know from our consumer research – and from our engagement with stakeholders such as groups here today – that other problems remain:

It can be very hard to cancel contracts. Sometimes because of deliberate obstruction from the current provider. I am worried about this, which is why we have this week announced an investigation into companies who hold on to customers who want to leave at the end of their contracts.
Nuisance calls blight the lives of many people – several billion are made into the UK every year.
People can be exasperated by their experiences with customer services and of trying to get through to call centres.

Ofcom’s response

I now want to come on to Ofcom’s response to these remaining challenges and to how we want to work with others to make improvements.

Ensuring that all consumers are able to enjoy the benefits of a dynamic communications market even as expectations rise is one of my biggest priorities as Chief Executive.

At Ofcom we will be focusing on ensuring consumers are able to get access to good quality, reliable services; that they are able to switch easily including bundled services; and that there is proper redress if things go wrong.

We want to work even more closely with those who represent the interests of consumers, with real expertise in this area – like the Communications Consumer Panel, Which? and Citizens’ Advice.

Over the next year there are two big milestones that could affect the functioning of the market for consumers.

First, big mergers in our sector. These are not in Ofcom’s jurisdiction and, as we are supporting the CMA with technical advice, it would not be right to set out our position on individual cases.

But my general observation is that competition has been good for investment and for consumers.

Customers in the UK benefit from one of the world’s most competitive mobile markets, paying as little as £7 for a monthly service – among the cheapest in Europe.

But more than that, we need competition to help incentivise investment – the two go in hand in hand.

At Ofcom, we have usually found it is better to preserve or promote effective competition between providers, and rely on this to spur investment, rather than deter it. That investment, in turn, leads to better choice and quality for consumers.

Second, our Digital Communications Review. This is our first big review in ten years and will be an opportunity to take a broad look at the position of the citizen and consumer and what more needs to be done to serve their interests more strongly as we consider reforms to our regulatory approach. We already have a number of specific priority actions to support consumers underway:

Support to vulnerable groups, such as better sub-titling to improve the viewing experience for people who are deaf.
Work with the Government to deliver the Universal Service Obligation of 5 meg broadband announced in the March Budget. Our evidence shows a strong case for universal availability of 10 meg broadband – for residential consumers and businesses – to ensure that everyone can benefit from and enjoy their experiences online.
Stronger enforcement on nuisance calls working with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

It is also important that industry plays its part

Improving delivery to consumers doesn’t just fall at the feet of the regulator. The delivery of first class communications services is primarily the responsibility of providers.

I am therefore calling on industry to focus and lead on four crucial areas that will make a real difference for consumers:

Better information: Making available clear and accurate information in advertising and at the point of sale, so that consumers can genuinely compare offers and make effective choices.

Easier switching: Ensuring straightforward processes when consumers want to switch, including arrangements for cancellation of services without entanglement – and coordination between providers for a smooth transfer.

Improved contract terms: Having clear and fair terms with no hidden charges or lock-ins.

Better complaints handling: Setting out simple steps when consumers wish to complain or when things go wrong. It means doing everything possible to avoid a dispute in the first place, including the opportunity for consumers to ‘walk’ when services fall short.

It also means clear signposting of alternative dispute resolution services – which are free to use.

These issues are high on my agenda and my team is busy working on how we can drive up standards against each one.

But industry must lead in delivering better service and consumer experiences, and I am calling on all providers to deliver quick improvements without the need for regulatory intervention.

What’s coming up

Before closing, I want today to announce some news that will help to improve consumers’ experience of communications services.

First, later this morning we will publish a beefed-up Code of Practice on broadband speeds.

The speeds code has been around since 2008 and, like the sector, it has to move on.
The new version of the Code gives consumers the opportunity to walk away from contracts when speeds fall below acceptable levels, giving real power to the elbow of consumers.

Second, on the 20th of this month a new consumer switching regime begins. From this date, changing landline and broadband between providers who use the Openreach network – such as BT, Sky, TalkTalk and EE – will become a lot smoother.

A new ‘one touch’ process will place the responsibility for the switch in the hands of the company the customer is moving to. I am confident that this will make a real difference for consumers and will encourage more people to take full advantage of competition in the sector.

Once this is in place we will next month turn our attention to improving consumer switching between mobile networks, starting with a public consultation on a new set of proposals.

Close

I am determined that Ofcom can continue to deliver good outcomes for consumers, and actually that we can step up further.

We have set the bar high for ourselves but also for industry. If we deliver then everyone benefits: consumers and citizens of the country and the businesses who deliver the services we regulate.

I look forward to working with you to make this happen.

ENDS Check against delivery”

I note the claims on broadband speed with some qualms as previously here I have quoted the industry pointing out problems with multiple people using broadband for hi-def broadcasting reception. Perhaps someone at the meeting raised that point – will we ever know.?

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

Well done dieseltaylor:-D. So why did Which? not give a link to this? And as they appear to have hosted the event are they going to give a link to a full report on what was said and discussed in the spirit of “transparency”. Or is it “up to” us to try and dig it out?

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Guest

Thanks for your reply Diesel, and thanks for posting a comment too, Malcolm.

Thanks for sourcing Sharon White’s full speech Diesel – I’m sorry for not providing it earlier but here’s a link to it on Ofcom’s site:

http://media.ofcom.org.uk/speeches/2015/the-consumer-and-citizen-at-the-heart/

We don’t generally record these types of events so we can’t provide a full transcript of the discussion that followed. Instead we’ve summarised the key points covered by Ofcom in this Convo, and credit to you for finding Sharon’s full speech.

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Guest

Thanks for putting in the link Andrew.

Old habits die hard and what with audit training and as a shareholder dealing with Boards of Directors I always like to get to the base level if possible. Its amazing what impressions can be given by artful writing that leads shareholders astray.

I was wondering how long this up to 10% marketing worm has existed and see the new rules allowing it were announced in September 2011.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15105760

I see Which? was against it then and I wonder what more active stance Which? might have taken at the time given it so totally sucks.

The authority for the 10% limit being acceptable was from part of the Advertising Standards Authority. Which actually is not an official NGO authority but is an advertising industry construct.
I am not sure whose side the ASA are on but my guess is the ISP’s. : )

It would have been an interesting tussle and sure to have garnered many column inches. I do not think any rational member of the public would have supported the ASA ‘s stance once it was explained. A good argument for 50% could have been made and appreciated by consumers.

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Guest

I am aware that Ofcom has looked at this before but I would like to see the use of ‘up to’ phased out in broadband marketing. My ISP responded to local pressure and now just gives a maximum and minimum speed based on a postcode. It’s better to predict speed from a phone number but the postcode option is also needed if you are house hunting and broadband speed is an important factor.

To be positive, Ofcom has a useful guide for those experiencing low speeds or other problems with broadband: http://consumers.ofcom.org.uk/internet/broadband-speeds/broadband-speeds-2/

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

The post code option gives a limited result. Phone number is the important information. No doubt if you have a specific house in mind the estate agent can do a phone number check for you.

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Guest

I appreciate that. A postcode can cover a considerable distance in rural areas.

I don’t know about other ISPs, but mine provides an estimate based on postcode, not phone number. It provides me with a minimum and a maximum speed and achieves the minimum virtually all the time, so I’m happy with the service.

Profile photo of malcolm r
Guest

Shocking!! A new campaign from Which? “A shocking 15.4 million households aren’t getting the promised ‘up to’ broadband speeds they’re paying for.”
What a nonsense opening. Everyone gets a speed of “up to”. What Which? presumably is trying to persuade us we should all get the maximum speed? Or is it? Or just ban “up to”. Do you know what you want?

Come on Which? You are supposed to be an objective organisation offering balanced information to help consumers. Stop this tabloid headline grabbing approach that is unsupportable and just deal factually with the issues.

You want consumers to know what speed they are likely to achieve. So tell them how to find out their estimated speed – whether minimum or average – by, for example, giving their phone number to a potential provider before committing to a contract.

Stop trying to whip up support on shaky grounds and treat consumers as intelligent enough to understand facts. I’m beginning to wonder whether my subscription to Which? is worthwhile.

Guest
Mazza says:
24 June 2015

I think you have missed the point…. The number of people getting anywhere near the maximum advertised is very small, so therefore very misleading to all those who get the very minimum. Most people would assume that there was a good chance of getting at least half way between the min and max, but that is so very far from the truth. For me, personally, we have never got anywhere near the MINIMUM! (1 – 3.5mbs promised) and BT still say they can get us up to the maximum, at the same time that they have told our semi-detached neighbour that they will not get more than 0.6mbs! That is what the problem is for many people…….

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Guest

Mazza, I have not missed the point. The maximum speed advertised is exactly that – all it does is indicate the best that can be hoped for. But for an individual it is largely a useless bit of information. It would make no difference whether it applied to 10%, 50% or 90% – what you need to know is what you, in your house, are likely to get. To do this you need to give your phone number to a prospective provider. What I take issue with is why Which? does not tell people to do this rather than simply trying to beat people with a stick – they are, as I understand it, following Ofcom rules. If so then beat up Ofcom perhaps. I’d like facts that help from Which?.

Guest
Mazza says:
25 June 2015

What you dont seem to know is that the providers are the ones who tell you that you can get 1 – 3.5mbs (in my case) when there is no chance whatsoever of even getting 1mbs. So I am with Which? In making everyone connected with this industry to tell the truth from day one. We have been told to use phone numbers to get the best info for years, so Which? Do t need to tell us that. Please support those of us who have spent literally hundreds of hours trying everything under the sun to get to the truth. If you lived in this village, you would know how much effort is being put in to get to the truth, as everyone here gets different stories from BT and their providers. Three of us within 100yds are waiting for three separate visits from Openreach to fix our identical problems! How ridiculous is that. I truly hope that all the various “presure groups” that are now springing up concerning broadband will result in UK getting the 100% min5mbs for everyone.

Guest
Mazza says:
25 June 2015

You may fond this link interesting. It is a transcript of one of several meetings of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee with various other “interested” partis, incl Chris Townsend, Chief Executive Officer, Broadband Delivery UK, and Andrew Field, Superfast Broadband Programme Director, Broadband Delivery UK (they come in a little way down the transcript). It mKes exceedingly interesting reading, especially their attitude towards the subject. This will give you, perhaps, a clearer understanding of why so many of us feel so frustrated by this whole issue. It is not just the advertising of sppeds, but the fact that thousands of properties will be unlikely to have any useable BB for many years to come unless they invest many thousands of pounds themselves. However, issues with wireless and mobile signals make that a non-starter for many as well……

http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/environment-food-and-rural-affairs-committee/rural-broadband-and-digitalonly-services/oral/16371.html

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Guest

I would like to see the Advertising Standards Authority tightening up on what is acceptable in marketing. The larger companies seem to have learned just how far they can push misrepresentation.

The first Which? Conversation was about broadband speed and the ASA has tried to help: https://conversation.which.co.uk/technology/asa-bt-infinity-broadband-internet-speeds-advertising/

My request to Which? would be push ASA to ban the term ‘up to’ from all advertising, which would help consumers a great deal, not just with broadband speed.

Profile photo of JamesMacDonald
Guest

People power is what is needed.I don’t trust Government to do anything if left to them. Broadband is diabolical in my area, Western Isles, and BT are to blame. They are very ready to take my money but if 2 people in my household are on the the internet at the same time it goes absolute crazy and somebody has to come of it. Moving providers is not the answer because BT own the landline, exchanges etc.

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Guest

Maybe the SNP will help James! Mind you, I’m sure living in the Western Isles has huge appeal. I’m envious.

Guest
Nick Pearce says:
20 June 2015

Once again, the tail is wagging the dog. I switched 10 months ago, and Plusnet told me I’d get a paltry 1.3mgs, I have been costantly getting more than this about 1.6mgs. In my opinion, the providers will know exactly what speed I’ll get, but they deflate the number to make themselves look good.

Guest
Mazza says:
24 June 2015

Ha ha! I wish! I think you are very much in the minority!

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Guest

what is driving me crazy is BT —-l live in Southampton , a large city, and l cannot get BTinfinity —they say it is not ready to roll out and is undergoing a full evaluation . lt seems strange that new blocks in the area have ”infinity” and l don’t —this has been going on for at least 3 years —not only does the lack of ”infinity” effect my broadband it ALSO effects my television quality of service that l get my television from BT but without infinity l cannot get HD services and this effects other suppliers such as SKY sports channels –BT are not providing me with their full services

Guest
Dave says:
27 August 2015

I am currently having a problem with EE. I joined them in Jan 2014 on a 12 month special deal for unlimited 17 Mbps unlimited BB. It seemed fine at first after initial set up problems and I was getting speeds around 11Mbps, not 15Mbps I was told I could expect at my address.
However this year the speeds have dropped dramatically to between 4 and 8Mbps.
Yesterday I contacted Customer Services and after they did various test I was told my line had been capped between 4 and 9Mbps. They couldn’t say why or when this happened nor have they ever advised me my service has been reduced and they are still charging me for 17Mbps service.
They said they would remove the cap within 24hrs but I’m not holding my breath they also offered to refund 1 months internet charge.
I refused this offer as inadequate requesting they refund 50% of the BB charge for the contract plus compensate me for the inconvenience they have caused.
I let you know the outcome.

Guest
Harry Tyler says:
31 August 2015

For the life of me I cannot understand why UK companies all have different “deals” and it is up to the client to choose the best/cheapest one.
This to me smacks of sheer dishonesty in that the company involved hopes that thousands of clients will not get to choose the “best” deal and that the company will therefore gouge more money out of them.
Otherwise why have different “deals”?
Surely a responsible, honest company will set the cheapest rate they can afford and make a profit?
I say UK companies are all lousy, dishonest cheats – that includes banks, electricity, gas/oil, broadband, telephone, airlines, etc. You cannot trust a single one of them!

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Guest

It is the nature of commerce going back centuries to set your stall out with a range of products each of which has a unique selling point and is priced to differentiate it from the merchant next door. It is the most competitive form of market but, in excess, it leads to confusion and exploitation. Which is why we have regulators. Unfortunately the regulators are usually not fly enough to check the excesses, but nobody is locked into a deal for ever although you do have to keep your eyes open. Comparison websites can help but some are not entirely transparent and some of the best deals are available from companies that do not list on such websites.

Sometimes the price is not the only factor in a contract that makes it worth having.

Guest
Ann Dorey says:
26 October 2015

We are with BT and broadband speeds are unreliable. We could leave them and get our broadband from another provider, but, be warned, if anything goes wrong, BT still owns the line.
So BT will say it is your new provider’s fault, while your new provider says it is BT’s fault and one can spend months having this dreary debate. BT owns the lines; stick with BT; complaints about slow or no broadband will result in debate with one provider.

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Guest

I was informed that the speed depends on how close you are to your exchange. Anything over two miles and your stuffed. They all whistle Dixie when they get your money.

Guest
Joe Gluza says:
19 April 2016

It’s pointless telling that I can go to another provider if I’m unhappy with BT’s service. BTOpenreach controls access through their last mile monopoly where I live. No matter who I go to for broadband, BTOpenreach determines the line speed I get.