/ 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?

James McGrory says:
13 June 2015

The old/original in-the-ground distribution will remain the weakest/slowest link!
If this is to remain within the bailliewick of BT, then BT must be given performance-criteria for upgrading. When this infrastructure was initially “sold” to BT (on privatisation), was there no pre-condition on its upkeep/development?

It’s about time something was done about the exagerated claims made by the ISPs concerning Broadband speeds. It’s time for a natoinal map showing the maximum speeds achieved in all parts of the country and by what ISP’s.This will make the ISP’s sit up and take note of what the public have been saying for the last few years instead of taking us for granted.Thanks to Which NOW somthing IS being done,Keep up the good work.

A move in the right direction. Keep up the good work.

Openreach equipment has been installed just 10mtrs from my house. My ISP advertises fibre-optic broadband, but is not available to me. Don`t understand.

Denise says:
13 June 2015

I left BT not only because of extremely poor Broadband, but because their customer service was terrible. I had to wait until the end of my contract, of course, but any time I asked for compensation for long periods without ANY workable broadband (therefore unable to earn as I work from home), I was passed from pillar to post with no resolution. Never did they reduce the broadband bill, or offer a refund. I am with Plusnet now and, although still having to rely on the BT infrastructure, at least my slow broadband appears to stay consistent. I have never been without broadband, and when it came below their promised rate for a week, I was instantly attended to, and a refund offered. How can this be possible with the same infrastructure I wonder.
BT need to be fined and their power rescinded in all areas of the UK where they fail to provide a service.

John says:
17 June 2015

Denise, BT’s power can’t be rescinded as you say. They own the majority of the UK’s network. There is no other player outside cabled areas.

Also, did you not know PlusNet are wholly owned by BT? Beggars believe doesn’t it.How can one part of BT Group be good (relatively) and the other so shockingly bad.

Mind you, it happens in the banking world too. HSBC are like BT, appalling! But their First Direct banking arm has won customer service awards constantly for the last 10 years.

Why can’t CEO’s of these Group organisations see these differences that the consumer can? I always thought that if a part of a business was doing well, you tried to mimic it across the whole organisation. Silly me!

As most have said, it’s the UK infrastructure that is to blame, not the ISP. I have changed twice in the last two years and despite signing up for the latest “Unlimited fibre, high-speed Broadband” it really is a euphemism for the usual slow speed that the UK has put up with. My last download speed as checked 3 times was .75mb. Just about dial-up speed. I live in a rural area so cannot see that changing in my life-time

BT have cost me a fortune is time lost whilst they have interfered with my broadband settings and computer. Three times I have had to get my computer reconfigured at my own cost. Once a so called expert was on my computer for the whole day. I wrote into BT to complain for each of these disasters and never got a single reply. I live on the top of a hill in central London. I have broadband which drops out all the time. My mobile is a joke – I can never have a call without it cutting out. I work for myself and they have cost me work. No apology, no help – just fobbed off with excuses. Five years ago I was told I could get a high speed service. Still waiting! And the worst thing is none of them are any better than the others. You go to Europe and they have got it covered!

Barry J. Webb says:
13 June 2015

This is great news, and about time too. In any other business, these cheating low-speed providers would be guilty of fraud. Why not in the case of broadband speeds?

Rocking says:
13 June 2015

Broadband suppliers should be forced to guarantee a minimum speed on all contracts. If that minimum speed is not met for anytime during a month you should not have to pay. Maximum speeds are pointless, they are rarely reached and unsustainable. Fibre cable needs to be from souce to user, not at a box half a mile down the road.

Bert says:
13 June 2015

We do live in the ‘sticks’ and have been totally forgotten by all providers. Hopeless and yet they still charge us for full speed.

Robin Hewlett says:
13 June 2015

I agree that we should be able to get out of our contracts if we are having problems with the reliability of the line and slow speed.

It is disappointing and does not appear to be very much:

1. While there is small progress in being able to switch, this can still be done by the intelligent customer, though with a little effort.

2. Better information – this is already covered by contract law and the consumer should take some responsibility in asking if all conditions and terms have been disclosed. This ruling will not help if say Vodafone stated that they changed terms by sending a text or that if you renewed a contract you automatically agreed to changes in the contract they had not informed you of.

3. Hidden charges should be made illegal as intent by the consumer is compromised. Additionally, Vodafone’s system levies “ghost call” charges for alleged calls that could not have been made because the phone has been switched off or data charges when the phones data and network capability have been disconnected.

4. One could still walk away after obtaining the PUK code. There would be some progress if one can walk away leaving disputed charges but I would be surprised if this would be possible because of the moral hazard issue. This exaggerated by having to pay by direct debit or face punitive charges that do no reflect the additional administration costs. Addressing these unfair penalties can only be done if Ofcom provided a better and direct service instead of delegating it to bodies like Otelo. It appears that quangoes need quangoes.

In my opinion, all these are typical toothless political mis-direction. What is required is better handling and investigation of complaints by Ofcom – e.g. like the Financial Ombudsman. A few instances of enforcement and fines to the service providers will improve their service just as it has done with banks. Right now I have no confidence in what Ms. White has said.

Martin stern says:
13 June 2015

my broadband is very bad. Sometimes the connection droops with out warning.

Yes, changes need to take place.
1) Prices for broadband should be based on what you can get not what the up to estimate says.
2) Communication between ISP’s and customers is very frustrating. Non english speaking operators are a major factor and lead to lengthy calls, poor instruction and actions taken.
It took me 38 days to finally get satisfaction for a fault with slow speeds.(Getting 2mb on 38mb line)
It was only the correct information from a fault manager that conclded the complaint.
It seems that routers should not be switched off after use. The actual speed that your line produces
is all that you will get, so you wold be paying for less speed where others woulb be getting more on the sme package.
One final point is that prices should not be increased during a contract period or reduce the lengths of the conntract, not increase it.
Interested to hear any comments on these issues.

Frank bullivant says:
13 June 2015

Great news on the broadband now at least people won’t be afraid to change if not satisfied

Pete Cowan says:
13 June 2015

This isn’t the main problem. We need to get fast cable to peoples houses. Our village school has barely dial-up speed despite cable reaching the village, but BT refuse to roll out the service to the school or residents for several years.

I note two less than enthusiastic comments, and I echo this to some extent.

As an island people living in a slow to change centuries old class system, having backed away from progressive social reform at the pace we once saw, we have now elected and for 5 years, a government that presents a message of fiscal responsibility, but even that is far from guaranteed as they seek to shave another £12 billion from welfare and £13 billion from government departments, code for cutting services, but from the other side of their mouths they speak of spending £80 billion on HS2 and £100 billion on Trident renewal (over its lifetime, but still an average of £2.5 billion a year for 40 years with considerable front end expense), so we are looking at cuts of £30 billion alongside spending increases of perhaps £100 billion plus.

On the other hand the Osborne law and his resurrection of a committee that hasn’t sat since 1860 may be for the purpose of cancelling some of this promised spending and being able to blame it on the new law and the new committee, but apart from the government’s very narrow and limited focus on fiscal matters, this seems to be a government devoid of ideas, and devoid of any foreign policy.

Our arms sales to dictators and destabilising military interference and campaigns are causing severe distress and destabilisation all along the southern and eastern borders of Europe, and while we ask the EU for favours, we decline to play any equal and reasonable role in solving problems the British are at least partly responsible for.

In short, we have a dysfunctional government, viewed in the round, but an even more dysfunctional electorate, so we cannot expect much as things stand, and may come to realise in 10 or 15 years from now just how much the world beyond our coastline has changed, how much more influence other nations have acquired, how little Britain matters, and we won’t even have anything to show for this at home where British workers are some of the most exploited in Western Europe, with a high cost of living and no comparable high standard of living.

This government has signalled a desire to cancel our existing Human Rights Act without any discussion or guarantee of what will replace it, and it wants to maintain and even increase security controls.

Our very basic and old fashioned education system does us few favours, and we are as a nation one with poor awareness onset normalisation, we suffer from wilful blindness and comfort induced indifference. As a nation we are under informed, and ill informed, uneducated and under educated, and we allow the ruling class to continue to decide the shape and content of our lives, inviting consequences we would not individually choose for ourselves, and we are largely politically disengaged, as if this is little importance to and has little effect on our lives. We continue to accept a political system that delivers little choice, and we are governed by ideologues who we soon cannot tolerate, but we can only exchange them for those we have fired before. In no other walk of life does this arrangement prevail.

We are who we are, and we get what that brings, and broadband speed fast or slow, or the right to migrate away from one provider to another without penalty and with no mobile unlocking restrictions and fees are probably not going to prove to be the most important concerns we will have, but this doesn’t mean we should ignore these issues, but we should also not ignore 100 others that most of us are too busy to engage with, or don’t understand (as the ruling class intends), think these are of no concern or interest to us, or are the responsibility of someone else.

In many ways Britain is a success, certainly when we compare ourselves to Libya, Syria, Iraq and many such nations, but not so much if we compare ourselves to Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Germany, France to mention a few of our nearest neighbours. Perhaps we don’t think we deserve what they have, don’t deserve more than we have, or just don’t care, but as good as things are here, they can also be much better, and this won’t come about if we do nothing, say nothing and wait for others to provide this for us.

So, if the glass is half full, is this enough for the British people and our place in the world. If the ruling class won’t change, or are slow to change, and this is reflected in aspects of life that are unsatisfactory and dysfunctional, it is our right and responsibility to act to bring about the changes we wish to see.

Despite the elite educations of many of our leaders it is clear they lack the imagination and skills required to be effective leaders, and they too often retreat into ideology and self interest instead of remaining receptive to the needs and ideas of all the Births people. Clearly our leaders need a lot of help, and we should provide that.

I am glad to see Which extending its platform to encourage more participation and input from their public in order to influence government and bring about change in Britain.

Jeremy says:
13 June 2015

It doesn’t matter who your supplier is if the infrastructure is not fit for purpose. That is BT’s responsibility and they seem to be more interested in televising sports than completing their broadband obligations.

John Price says:
13 June 2015

Hi I am totally sick of BT and our Prime Minister’s PROMISES that 95% of the UK would have Superfast Fibre Optic Broadband.. by the end of 2013?? Does anyone know when 2013 is due to end? We of course expect Politicians to Lie through their teeth that is what they do for a living!
I recently monitored my BT connection using their own monitoring website over a week approximately.. I took screenshots of every trial, sometimes there was not enough bandwidth to actually use their test site! There was absolutely NOTHING.. there BT are absolutely USELESS! I live just half a mile by road from Uppingham in Rutland quarter of a mile as the crow flies! There are 80 homes in our village and several of our residents use their computers from home for their business! My Daughter often has to work from home but if she visits us the connection drops so often that she has to use her phone to connect!.. BT spend millions advertising Infinity (which at best is only available to 70% of the population) Yet they are unable to give us anything like what we are paying for! They should be fined for advertising a product that is never going to reach the remaining 30% of the population and they should refund the money paid to them when the service is unavailble!.. I will be moving to GIGACLEAR with the rest of our Village when we have enough residents to sign up! IF they can lay the cables direct to my Property why can’t BT? They should also be fined for the shortfall in property prices when they are on the market! RELIABLE Broadband is essential in today’s society!..

Long overdue, but sensible and appropriate. It has my whole-hearted support.