/ 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?

12 June 2015

Just to let you that I personally appreciate the very good work your orgaisatio is doing on behalf of consumers. Keep up it up!

Graham Huggett says:
12 June 2015

I live in a Village that only has BT, no cable companies. I could change provider but I would still be stuck with with rubbish speed from the BT line. I can not watch anything without it buffering so I don’t bother. Films take 24hrs to download.
My biggest bug bare is the fact that many locations that have a good, fast service are being offer fibre 50mg before the people that live in rural locations at are lucky to get 2mg. So unfair

Caroline Wilson says:
13 June 2015

I thoroughly agree that those of us who live in the sticks with ultra-slow broadband should be more of a priority. I was so incensed last Christmas at the government ads promoting their ‘success’ in rolling out super-fast broadband that I put in a freedom of information request to find out how much money had been spent on the campaign. The answer was a cool £8 million! How many households could have been linked up for that amount of money? Our village is only due to be surveyed this year or next, which doesn’t mean we will see any improvement any time soon.

whiz says:
12 June 2015

It is not higher speed which I’m after, as there enough already. It is consistently truthful product descriptions so that we don’t have to learn a “marketing BS calibration factor”, which might be company-dependent, to divide the claim by to arrive at comparable figures. It is that all of the broadband companies at the same time swap from selling a claimed “up to” speed to selling the histogram instead of the headline. That is, if a product is known to give 36,37 or 38 MB/s download speed over 1km of copper twisted pair, the broadband companies stop selling it as “up to” “40 MB” which is never going to be strictly true for that link in that street. And calling it “totally unlimited” “fibre optic broadband” is a bit suss too. VDSL2 from fibre-to-the-cabinet over unmodified BT twisted pair is less snappy to train to non-English call centre staff but its not too hard really is it?

Jeanette Eason says:
13 June 2015

Many of the posts echo with my sentiments. There is not much point keep switching providers to get better speeds and connections for Broadband, until BT/Openreach bring the whole of the infrastructure up to a more acceptable level. How is it that BT can advertise a fantastic service for their own product and yet maintain such an appalling infrastructure service?

In my village only 3 miles from a super speed broad band area (according to a BT mailshot) it has proven that it makes no difference who your provider is the speed is still pretty abysmal and the number of times the connection is lost each minute is so frustrating. Yesterday it took over 15 minutes to unsubscribe from a newsletter. Even more annoying is that I am only situated yards from the local BT exchange. My current provider is ending soon and so I am now having to change my email address, but trying to notify people and changing information on various web sites is taking forever because the internet connection is so utterly dreadful. Ofcom needs to sort out the infrastructure first and then focus on providers.

I completely agree with you re the pointlessness of switching when bb speed is not improved. However, provided all else is equal, if you can can get a sub-standard service for less money it is worth considering. In my post above I explained how I cut my annual bb and calls bill from £263 with BT to £80 with their subsidiary Plusnet which had a £100 cash back offer recently. I hold out no realistic expectations of an improved service, despite Plusnet’s snappy advertising, I just feel better paying less for it than BT’s rip-off of loyal customers.

Tim Hatcher says:
13 June 2015

Great news. I have had this problen in the past.

John Tuck says:
13 June 2015

Leaving your existing provider when you live in an area where broadband is not available from any provider is pointless. Rather see an initiative to provide broadband in rural areas that goes much further than any current initiative.

E C Smith says:
13 June 2015

I quite agree. My only alternative to BT was satellite broadband, and after 10 years with BT and a 0.5 mbps max speed, which was normally around 0.31mbps, I have just left and got satellite.
Instead of upgrading already good speeds in other areas, they should be forced to supply a minimum speed of 20mbps in every area, before others get upgraded to higher ones.
Many businesses are suffering from lousy speeds all over the UK, which does nothing to improve sales or employing more staff. It seems to me that many of the priorities are wrong.

Dave says:
13 June 2015

Nice – high time something like this was done, but it still doesn’t address the real problem of the actual infrastructure issue.

I really think that a large proportion of the line rental portion of the overall charges should be capped based on actual line speeds (or pretty much scrapped if they’re less than some required minimum.) This would give the telcos an immediate incentive to concentrate on upgrading rural areas to something vaguely usable.

As if! Like the other regulators, Ofcom are cravenly onside with the suppliers who, frankly, have Ofcom and the rest of us by the short and curlies. Big talk from Ofcom and Which? Is only talk. Action will show what they are really capable of and what has been announced so far is pretty much useless when you examine the small print.

michael says:
13 June 2015

with the profits BT make (subsidised by the taxpayer !) there is no excuse for slow speeds. If BT/Openreach cannot get their act together then the telephone system should be taken out of their hands – without compensation ! Also fine the Directors…that will get their attention.

Alistair says:
13 June 2015

This is a great result for which, if these companies are held accountable it will be. I have had nothing but hassle with talk talk since signing up last May. Was lucky if I was getting 6gb of speed, then last month when engineer cam out I then started to get 14gb of speed, wonder if that is a coincidence

Al Reeves says:
13 June 2015

Miselling of broadband by making false claims about speeds is no different from miselling PPI or anything else. Give the business hefty fines.

Hefner says:
13 June 2015

I cannot wait to leave BT Internet. I get interruptions almost everyday at 08:00, 12:00, 14:00, then again two or three other times n the evening. My own dedicated BT service disappears, and is replaced by BT-phone, which does not connect. The situation usually lasts four-five minutes et is only cured by resetting the whole connection procedure. Given that it is near impossible to talk to anybody on the BT side, I just want to quit.

E C Smith says:
13 June 2015

This is good, we should not be penalised for changing supplier to get a better service. I recently changed from BT where our exchange has only a 0.5mbps speed and no other providers (this is due to the type of exchange), to satellite broadband as I’d got to the end of my tether with it. BT did at least waive their cancellation fee because their service was so poor.
Frankly, having had broadband supplied by them since it was first available here – approximately 10 years ago – and paying well over the odds (around £15 a month now, originally £25 a month), I don’t think they should have a cancellation fee anyway. I’ve been subsidising them for years!

John Davies says:
13 June 2015

These won’t have the broadband providers trembling in their boots will it.

Still doesn’t help the milions of us still paying the same, sometimes more, for first generation ADSL, than people getting High speed fibre ASDL.

If this is the best OfCom can do then disband them and save the money to the tax payer of funding it.

And for Which to call this a WIN, well!!!!

Trebor says:
13 June 2015

We are with Virgin and should get up to 50mb but only ever get about 10mb. As Virgin is one of the big players, I would be surprised if another provider would be able to do much better. Why can’t they just provide what they are advertising – 50mb?

Vanessa, if a broadband provider gives an “up to” speed, that is not a promise. What an advert should do is tell the customer how they can get a speed estimate for their particular premises from the provider before they commit to signing up. Why not promote that?

For years it has been possible to predict broadband speeds using postcodes and phone numbers. After years of nagging by me and other users, my ISP makes no mention of an ‘up to’ speed but a minimum and maximum download speed, which are currently 8.1Mbps and 12.3Mbps. Although the speed I measure is always near the bottom of the range, what I am told is honest.

There is no excuse for any ISP still to be quoting ‘up to’ speeds.

Nothing wrong with quoting “up to” – it is surely self explanatory. However any advert should also tell the potential subscriber how to get an estimate (it will not be a promise) of what they can expect to get on their own premises. They should be able to do this before they commit to signing up with a provider.

A very large number of people would disagree, Malcolm. There has been considerable pressure to stop ISPs referring to ISPs using ‘up to’ speeds.

How would you like it if you were offered a job with a salary of ‘up to £100k’ and it turned out that you would only earn £10k.

Running a business in that way is shabby and deceitful.

“Up to” is understandable if you bother to read it. Many people may just choose to ignore it. I don’t know where you get your statistic from. I am not suggesting that it is necessarily an appropriate way to advertise, but I have proposed that at the same time in such adverts people are clearly informed how to get an estimate from their potential provider. Surely being advised properly how to get that information is what matters, not quibbling about wording. My ISP clearly told me this and I did check my estimated speed – which is what I get. So let’s get ISPs to make sure people are properly informed about how to get a speed estimate before signing up.

I understand that the term ‘baker’s dozen’ dates back to medieval times when a baker would provide an extra loaf to avoid being found guilty of selling an underweight batch of bread. Very sensible, but somehow companies dealing with the public seem keen on misrepresentation these days.

My suggestion is that ISPs should specify the minimum speed that a customer can expect. Anything above that will be a bonus.

“ISPs should specify the minimum speed…” That helps no one. I want to know what I am likely to get, so checking using my phone number allows the ISP to make that prediction. I don’t want a bonus thanks, I want the speed.

Knowing the minimum speed is a great deal more helpful than being given an ‘up to’ speed that few, if any, customers can be achieved.

Since we can predict speeds using postcodes and phone numbers we should get rid of meaningless ‘up to’ statements. My ISP does not use ‘up to’ speeds, but others need to get up to speed in honest advertising.

When getting your estimated speed for your premises is simply, in most cases, giving your phone number to a prospective ISP. what’s the point in quoting a “minimum” speed that you may not normally get. However there may be times when traffic or other activity reduce the speed from the norm. We’d then have some people capitalising on that by claiming the minimum promise was not met. I’d like to see factual information – already easily available if we choose to use it – than another means to beat people over the head with.

Malcolm – Can you tell me why it is useful for broadband service providers to quote an ‘up to’ speed when a phone number or postcode can provide a useful indication of what speed a prospective customer could achieve?

Unless there is a good reason for keeping the ‘up to’ statement that has annoyed me and many other consumers over the years, let’s get rid of it from marketing information.

In contrast, quoting a minimum speed is useful because it can help predict whether a user is likely to be able to use iPlayer, stream video, etc.

Wavchange, as I understand it if you are on copper from the exchange your speed will depend upon, primarily, your distance from the exchange. So submitting your phone number will establish what you are likely to get from an ISP. That seems simple to give people the information they want. Advertising an “up to” speed simply points out the upper limit on such a general connection without the ISP being given further information. No point in advertising a minimum – that will depend upon your location; unless you want the minimum the worst possible location would have, which helps no one (well, perhaps one).

As I have said before if all ISPs clearly advertise the means to establish your own premises speed by submitting a phone number before you commit to a contract, then you will know what to expect and the advert will be more helpful. It’s easy. I don’t see the problem.

Presumably your personal “estimate” may reduce from time to time due to line activity. So do you want them to quote you an absolute minimum that you can take them to task for if it is sometimes missed? I’m not sure what, in practice, you want to achieve.

Your “up to” speed can also depend on the equipment it is being used on.

An aging computer will be slow. Your internet security can slow you down. The distance of the wiring in your home can slow you down. Some routers are slower than others . If you haven’t rebooted your computer for a week it could be struggling and slowing you down.

We have a distribution hub with a maximum 10Mbps so there is no point in getting faster broadband unless we change the hub. Our speed is satisfactory so we will leave it as it is for now.

There are many factors to take into account and it is just not that black and white.

Malcolm – As I said earlier, my ISP quotes a minimum and maximum download speed, which are currently 8.1Mbps and 12.3 Mbps. Because there is adequate capacity I don’t see the same speed decrease that many users experience at times of heavy use. I don’t check on a daily basis but it’s rare that I see a download speed below 8 Mbps. The minimum speed quoted has gradually increased over the years, and never decreased.

If I was thinking of buying a house in the area I would check the minimum and maximum speed range available in that postcode range, since the phone number would be unknown. Where a postcode covers a considerable area it would be necessary to get an estimate for the property from the ISP.

Knowing a minimum speed to expect is helpful in deciding if there is a fault because if they report a problem and none is found they could be charged for the service call.

Many years ago, when my ISP told me that I should be happy with a speed that was a tenth of the ‘up to 8 Mbps’ figure quoted, I complained. They promptly increased my download speed from 0.8 Mbps, substantially, perhaps threefold but that’s so long ago I can’t be certain. After considerable criticism in the local press, the ISP dropped the ‘up to’ from its advertising. Many people want to be treated fairly by companies, and I am one of them.

There is a lot that consumers can do to achieve fair treatment. Several days ago I received a marketing email (which I had signed-up to) from a specialist holiday company saying: “What you see is what you pay – Our holidays don’t have any hidden extra costs.” I phoned them and mentioned that their website mentioned a compulsory surcharge of £50. They promptly changed their website and I have booked with them. My next action will be to contact another company and point out that their rival has dropped the unfair compulsory surcharge.

If we work together and tackle unfair practices and misleading marketing, we can achieve a lot. Look what consumer pressure has achieved in stopping some of the mobile service providers from raising their prices mid-contract.

The present Conversation has attracted many new and infrequent contributors, demonstrating how unhappy some consumers are and that we need Ofcom to take appropriate action to tackle the main problems within their remit.

wavechange, you seem to be proposing what I have suggested – check with your ISP before you commit. Just ask the question. That seems fair to me.

I think people are more savvy about advertising than some give them credit for. It is time we credited the British with the intelligence they possess.

Malcolm – I suspect that most people are savvy enough to check predicted speeds or ask their ISP. As I have made clear, I want to get rid of ‘up to’ speeds in marketing.

If companies behaved responsibly we might not need the Advertising Standards Authority.

With all the money that BT has made out of us over the years they should be putting fibre optic cable in for everyone doing away with wire connections, this would help traders across the country and make everyone happy

James McGrory says:
13 June 2015

Many/all service providers boast “wireless fibre-optic”!
Fibre-optic is surely just a non-metallic (hollow) “wire” – so how can it be wireless?
If the “fibre-optic” refers to the cabling in one segment (of the consumer-network), its traffic must surely be restricted by the “solid” cabling in other segments!?
Ultimately, subscriber-“connections” may well be wireless, but, until then, we are surely restricted by the cable-network (whether it be fibre or metal)!?

I have no choice of provider, where I live in a small Norfolk village I can get nothing other than BT, so no choice at all. I am also trapped into having Vodafone as that is the only provider in the area that you can occasionally get a signal from. We have to leave the village to get a signal. I simply do not understand why standard consumer rights do not seem to apply to technology giants. If I brought a car that did not work in my village I would return it and get a refund. I am sick and tired of this appalling level of service from this huge companies who are keen to take our money, but fail to provide the service that we are paying for. Much tougher action needs to be taken. No one should be able to charge for a service that they fail to provide.

Trev says:
13 June 2015

It won’t mean anything as ones line determines the speed that one can get, also before the ISP gives you a speed they will have tested the line and give you a quote of a speed just below the maximise available.

Markus Rafael Lombard says:
13 June 2015

I live in a rural village in Bedfordshire and the exchange dates from the 1930’s, all BT Outreach does is occasionally patch breakages up. I had 3 engineers out to fix my line that carries the Internet, 2 of the engineers juste checked the incoming box to the property with a metre telling me nothing was wrong. £127.00 call out charge…the third engineer went up the telegraph pole, and found my connection had corroded and wasn’t making a connection. BT have never apologised or mad good the £127.00 call out charge. If I could leave BT I would do so, unfortunately the exchanges equipment is so old that any other company would have to “piggy back” off of the existing equipment that’s been there since the 1930’s. Every time I complain of slow speeds, the guy from India tells me I have a perfectly acceptable speed in both directions. Yes; I suspect that is what he is told to tell British consumers like myself, as I have no hope in hell of finding a provider that performs better and honours its commitment to customer satisfaction. A company that doesn’t pay its executives and shareholders vast dividends, at the expense of investing in improving the network and bringing it into the 21st century.
If the government allow them to take of EE mobile network, all it will be is another money cow for the investors and further stifling of completion and improvement…

The U.K. Government would do well to Nationalise the whole industry. Capitalism has its place in society but, it should KEPT in its place!!! Communications is one place where it DOES NOT WORK.

Broadband Speed is only Part of the problem for many People. The QUALITY of Broadband is a REAL Issue for me, with drop-outs, and freezing. My provider will not admit that it cannot deliver what it Advertises in its Promotional Flyers !! The Trading Standards Body is letting everyone down in this area, by NOT taking these Broadband Providers to task. !!