Which? have once again called for broadband speed guarantees for customers, demonstrating their continued lack of understanding of the complexity of this issue and the multi-tier structure of the broadband delivery market - including Openreach’s critical role in fault resolution.
[caption id="attachment_135" align="alignleft" width="128"]Paul Heritage-Redpath, Product Manager
Back in March, they called on all ISPs to provide a ‘broadband speed guarantee’ which would provide customers with written speed ‘estimates’ at the start of the contract; allow customers to exit contracts without penalty if that speed isn’t achieved (so, actually they want a ‘guarantee’ not an ‘estimate’); fix loss of connection as quickly as possible; refund people for loss of service; and remove the jargon and ‘take responsibility’ for fixing problems. All in all, they wanted a basic SLA for broadband providing guarantees and compensation.
Their latest survey of over 2000 UK adults reportedly found that only 5% of people agreed that broadband speed is advertised in the clearest way and 88% agreed that speed was the second most important factor when choosing a broadband deal (after price). This has led Which? to re-issue their calls for a ‘broadband speed guarantee’ although in fairness, this time they appear to have dropped the request for early contract exit options where the speed provided isn’t achieved.
It’s a nice idea but unfortunately, it’s just not that simple!
We find it somewhat disturbing that Which? still appears to lack an understanding of the complexity of the UK broadband delivery market and in particular the fact that ‘issues’ often occur on BT Wholesale’s core network which is managed and maintained (and therefore fixed) by Openreach - not the actual ISP! The ISP has NO access to this network and very little influence to ‘speed up’ fault fixing or ‘take responsibility’ for the fault (excluding Virgin Media and altnets of course). We would welcome any measures to improve this process but that’s a job for Ofcom and Openreach – not the ISPs.
Secondly, (most) ISPs already provide speed ‘estimates’ at the point of order - before the order is finalised. It is very difficult to provide a ‘guaranteed’ speed as so many factors can affect the actual speed received including the customer’s choice of hardware, internal wiring of the property, electrical interference from other devices – even Christmas lights have been known to cause problems! The list is extensive and therefore an estimated speed that the physical line is able to support is given as this is more accurate.
Tougher ASA guidelines
The ASA already requires ISPs to advertise headline speeds based on the actual speeds achieved by at least 10% of their customer base, but this isn’t good enough for Which? either. They want the ASA to toughen up its rules, requesting:
- Advertised speeds are achieved by the majority of customers (51% +)
- Any speed claims are quantified
- Provide details of how many customers can actually achieve the advertised speed
Once again, it’s simply not that easy and could leave smaller ISPs at a significant disadvantage when competing against the larger ISPs with much larger customer databases on which to base their statistics - especially if the small ISP caters for a particularly rural target market, for example.
We criticised the original ASA guidelines for unnecessary complexity and potential favouring of large, national operators - this would make that situation even worse!
We agree that all ISP websites should have accurate and justified headline speed claims but toughening advertising guidelines and forcing ISPs to provide inaccurate guarantees is not the best approach. If anything, such actions would lead to ISPs being more ‘choosy’ about the customers they take on (avoiding lower speed customers as they may affect their statistics) and could cause price hikes to cover potential ‘guarantee compensations’.
Education is key!
Surely it would be more beneficial to educate customers to the fact that it is just an ‘estimate’ and that a guarantee would not be accurate (due to the factors we discussed earlier) and is therefore not provided.
By its very nature broadband is a contended service and its performance can fluctuate depending on how many simultaneous users there are, quality and length of the line, etc. If guaranteed speed is critical to a customer then perhaps they need to consider other types of connectivity such Ethernet - although these are significantly more expensive and therefore usually only used by business customers.
Have your say!
What do you think? Do you think ISPs should provide guarantees for broadband services? Do you think speeds can and should be guaranteed? Or do you think the contended nature of broadband and the underlying (predominantly) copper infrastructure poses too many variable? How do you advise your customers of potential speeds? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.