/ 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?

Nik Carter says:
13 June 2015

I agree with the comments that correctly say that the speed obtained is more dependent on the infrastructure than on the ISP. Changing ISP will rarely improve a slow connection. What would help is for ISPs to be required by law to charge a standard rate for their best speed and charge a discount any slower speeds. i.e. charge per Mb of speed For example £20/month for someone getting 10Mbs/S against £4.00/month for someone getting only 2Mbs/S. This way people getting slower speeds would not feel ripped off and give the ISPs an incentive to upgrade the infrastructure either themselves or via their agent.

Anthony says:
13 June 2015

Well Done. Its long overdue, people should and expect value for money

TGH says:
13 June 2015

I agree we need better broadband speeds, but surely we are all at the mercy of BT. I live in a rural area, and have been told by BT that it is not cost effective for them to bring cables to rural villages. This, after BT can afford to spend huge sums of money on football! Come on, get your core business up and running first. Let’s think about the customer – that all too readily forgotten person behind all businesses. How can you switch broadband server when they all use BT lines? Or have I got it wrong? Either way, we may be out in the countryside, but we deserve to be treated as well as those in the cities and large towns.

Very Disappointed
While these announcements may be viewed as a first step, I am disappointed with the lack of progress of addressing the core issues regarding broadband provision. OfCom attempts to walk a line between supporting user’s needs and those of industry. Having worked for a number of global users of communications services, I always feel OfCom takes the side of business, not the consumer.
The fundamental issue is that the broadband suppliers can advertise a maximum speed that perhaps 10% of their customers may achieve for 10% of the time. I can think of no other industry that would be allowed by its regulator to behave in that way. Until OfCom gets the suppliers to deliver the advertised speed to 90% of their customers for 90% of the time, then they are not fulfilling their statuary role as the industry regulator.
The suppliers need to invest in the core “fibre in the ground” infrastructure, too many just rely on piggy backing on BT. With so many disparate companies in the delivery chain, it is hardly surprising that complaints about customer service are so high. The vast majority of cable ducts in the ground were created when BT was a nationalised industry and access must now be opened up to all suppliers not “guarded” by BT as their own. The UK will not have the broadband service that industry and consumers need until we have true competition within the core, end to end, infrastructure.
OfCom need to get a grip on the industry to drive proper competition, even if that means legislative changes to their powers. This is a very important issue for the whole of the UK.

When investigating our exchange I come across the phrase “loop unbundled.” does that mean everything must be done by BT or is it because the exchange is tosmall for other providers to be interested in providing services there?
We are told this September all the “cabinets” will have been upgraded. What will it mean for speeds and will we have to pay to connect?

Alf stripling says:
13 June 2015

Who decides what is reasonable? This is always a problem.

All these improvements are much needed. As long as we choose capitalism, and to live in the consumer age, the consumer is the lifeblood of the system, but here in Britain, we islanders are often behind the rest of the developed world, lacking understanding and information about improvements, trends and conditions beyond our shoreline.

Often when improvements come we are only catching up with the rest of the world, so we must press for greater transparency, and better services and prices for the consumer as this nation is quite simply more poorly paid for our labour, and more heavily charged for goods and services than our neighbours who enjoy greater protections and a higher standard of living.

Don says:
13 June 2015

We keep voting for politicians who do nothing to improve living and working conditions in the UK. If we continue in this way we will always be trying to catch up with the rest of the developed world. Communications in this country are poor compared to other European countries and pathetic when compared to the Far East. Why would we expect companies to invest in improvements when they can still make fat profits from poor service.

Even in city centre Manchester businesses (RicherSounds Hi-Fi and tv shop) on Deansgate could get a fast enough broadband to demonstrate music streaming Hi-Fi, when I was in last year!. My own keeps dropping out and I will be complaining to plusnet soon as its dropping out 2 to 4 times a day!

This is a significant change so well done for your persistence

Great news, but until the infrastructure is upgraded changing Broadband provider isn’t going to improve speed. Perhaps this will prompt providers to introduce charge bands depending on the speed one receives to encourage users to switch. It would then be in the providers’ interest to work with those responsible for the infrastructure and get the upgrades.

Martin Nichols says:
13 June 2015

I note that there is no mention of known faults with cabling that Openreach refuse to fix. My ‘Fibre-to-the-cabinet’ connection speeds are being totally strangled by a short section of old aluminium cable along the road – six different engineers have identified the same issue. If this aluminium section becomes damaged then Openreach MUST replace it with copper, but there is no compulsion to replace it in the meantime, despite my connection speed being only 10% of what was predicted as a ‘realistic estimate’ – not even the optimistic ‘up-to’ figure. Working from home with large files that need sending this is a very big problem.

The best long-term option would be affordable fibre to the premises, but failing that please put the emphasis on getting the current cabling working as it should.

Siobhan Liehne says:
13 June 2015

I have no doubt that this will make life easier for those that have the option of choosing another provider but does nothing for thousand’s of people, including me, who do not have the choice of moving because they don’t HAVE another option! Not only is the landline broadband very slow at less than 1 meg a second, but we have 2G at best for our mobile phones so tethering is not an option either. No cable, no fibre and even satellite requires a landline and ours is 2 miles from the exchange, and all but steam driven! Bloody useless!

Denis Calvert says:
13 June 2015

I see many arguments on what speeds you are actually getting. Broadband speeds vary depending on the time of day . Any help is welcome, thanks and keep at them. For my next provider I will make sure I can get help/info from a UK based department.

Karen B says:
13 June 2015

Cliche alert!: ‘At the end of the day’ the chosen provider probably cannot guarantee a service – it is completely down to the infrastructure which in most places is sh*te. All the cables etc need to be totally upgraded to be able to deal with the increasing amount of traffic every day. It’s not rocket science to realise that computers have become a standard part of the lives of the majority of people in the UK and therefore the providers (which inclides the ‘retailer’ as well as the ‘owner’ of the lines) need to address the problem which , at the moment, none of them seem prepared to do. They are more interested in making money out of the consumer rather than paying to upgrade the crap serveice that they currently ‘provide’.

d daver says:
13 June 2015

I am with Talk Talk, am not in a rural area and have had slow broadband for years.
For the last year I have been promised Superfast Fibre Optic Broadband but it never arrives.
It is all blamed on my local station/ control box and other providers including BT advise the same.
There is therefore no point in my switching to another provider as they are all advising similarly.
Superfast last promised by March 2015. Did not happen.

Derek Collier says:
13 June 2015

This is a step in the right direction,but much more is required to make internet providers do more in the way of service to their customers !
Ofcom need to regulate providers more to make sure they provide a good service to their customers not just pander to internet and phone providers.

Brenda Long says:
13 June 2015

Well done

I am pleased that we are making strides to make things easier for the consumer to have mobile phones, ipads, computers etc

Alongside these proposals needs to come infrastructure to support them – I live in an area in Buckinghamshire that has only recently been able to have a choice of broadband and top speed broadband because the infrastructure locally could not support it

Everything to do with mible phones and internet needs to be clear and apparent not hidden agendas so that the consumer knows and understands exactly what is being provided

Many thanks to Which for making these new proposals possible and to the support from other consumers

Chas Griffin says:
13 June 2015

Well done!
What we need instead of meaningless ‘up to’ numbers is meaningful ‘at least’ numbers. If such a ruling is applied across the board no provider could have anything to complain about.

Keith says:
13 June 2015

Customers must be able to switch from BT without having to pay £30 leaving fee. In today’s environment where quality broad band service is considered to be a commodity, like water,gas and electricity customers must have free choice to move suppliers

Nick says:
13 June 2015

A good thing in theory but the truth is, with most of us tied in to phone services and/or TV services as well as broadband, moving providers is a bit of a nightmare.