Regulator proposes change to code of practice to give customers realistic view on the speeds they could receive at peak times, limit time providers have to resolve issues

Consumers in the U.K. could soon find it easier to shop for a new broadband service as a result of a proposed change to the regulator’s code of practice that will require providers to be more transparent about the capabilities of the services they offer and make it easier for dissatisfied customers to cancel their contracts.

Ofcom on Friday shared plans to update its existing code of practice for broadband to enable people better to understand what they are buying and giving them greater recourse to act if their service fails to live up to expectations.

The regulator’s current code of practice – set out just over two years ago – already requires the providers signed up to it to give customers an estimated range of speeds they can realistically expect to get from their service and gives end-users the right to terminate contracts without penalty if their provider fails to meet the minimum speed promised.

The new proposals take this a step further by requiring providers to inform customers of the slower speeds they are likely to experience at busy times of day – peak times are defined as 8pm-10pm for residential customers and 12pm-2pm for businesses – and to commit to a minimum guaranteed speed before sale. As it stands, providers are required to provide a minimum speed only if a potential customer requests it, and in post-sale documentation.

"This will allow people to compare providers and shop around with confidence," Ofcom said.

The regulator explained that the change regarding peak times will particularly benefit cable broadband customers, whereas for customers on copper line-based broadband, speed issues are often linked to the distance from local exchange or street cabinet.

Slower speeds at busy times "can be a particular issue on cable networks, such as the one operated by Virgin Media," Ofcom said.

As its stands, service providers have an unlimited amount of time to resolve a speed issue before offering customers the right to exit their contract, but under the new code they would have just one month. The right to exit would also be extended to bundled contracts, including phone and/or pay-TV as well as broadband.

Analysts and industry watchers applauded the proposed changes.

"Our own research shows that many users are less than satisfied with their broadband speeds, while four in 10 households don’t know the advertised speed of their connection," said Adrian Baschnonga, global lead telecommunications analyst at EY.

"Greater service guarantees will force…providers to come good on their promise to customers at a time when propensity to switch has never been higher," he said.

According to Ofcom, broadband companies are complying "adequately" with the existing guidelines.

"But there is room to improve, and providers have set out measures they intend to take, such reviewing staff training and looking at how to improve their Website sales processes," it said.