Doubts remain over broadband speeds as voluntary code agreed

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The Independent Online

All the major internet service providers (ISPs) have agreed to a voluntary code of practice designed to stamp out the over-selling of broadband speeds, but the issue is far from solved.

Some 32 companies, including all the top five, have signed up to the Ofcom-led scheme, which was first mooted last October in the light of growing consumer dissatisfaction at the gap between the speed of the broadband connection being advertised and the actual service received. A study by Which? last year showed the average speed on a service sold as 8Mbps was just a quarter of that.

Under the terms of the code, ISPs agree to provide potential customers with an accurate estimate of the maximum speed that their line can support, as well as ensuring sales people are able to explain what the estimates mean.

The industry lined up to endorse the scheme when it was launched by Ofcom yesterday. But ISPs are also keen to stress that so-called "access speeds" – that is, the top speed a line can support – do not necessarily provide the whole picture. A range of other factors, including time of day and the distance of the house from the local exchange, also affect performance.

"Throughput speed is of much greater value to the user," said the Internet Service Provider Association. "But consumers must also understand that every single broadband connection's speed will be different. Even neighbouring houses supplied by the same provider can receive different speeds because there are many limitations affecting the performance of connections which are beyond the control of any chosen ISP."

Ofcom is trying to address the issue. As well as working on a similar scheme for mobile broadband services, it is also planning to conduct the most thorough review of actual broadband speeds. Independent research assessing 2,000 residential connections over six months, involving tens of millions of speed tests, will conclude in a comprehensive market report to be published in the second half of the year.

Ed Richards, the chief executive of Ofcom, said: "Broadband is a thriving market in the UK. We want to encourage real clarity for consumers about the actual broadband speeds they can receive. This voluntary code is a significant step in this direction."