Britain's broadband watchdog today unveiled plans to crack down on firms and force them to tell customers what internet speed they really can get.
Ofcom is proposing new rules allowing Britons to walk away from long-term contracts penalty-free if broadband providers fail to up their game.
Broadband speeds are not consistent throughout the day, the regulator said. They often fall during busy periods when more people go online, meaning actual speeds can be much lower than advertised "up to" speeds.
Under the new plans, internet firms would have to give people a minimum, guaranteed speed at the point of sale. This compares with current requirements to do so if requested and in after-sale information.
“We want broadband shoppers to know what they’re buying, and what speeds to expect," said Ofcom consumer group director Lindsey Fussell.
So we plan to close the gap between what’s advertised and what’s delivered, giving customers a fuller picture before they commit to a contract. We’re also making it easier to walk away from a contract, without penalty, when companies fail to provide the speeds they promise.
Current rules do allow customers to break free from contractors if speeds fall below a minimum standard and their provider cannot improve it. But firms have an unlimited amount of time in which to up their game.
Ofcom wants to reduce the length of time internet providers have to prove they have made such improvements to just one month.
The plans are part of bringing about what Ofcom called a "step change" in Britain's broadband service quality. Other proposals include making firms pay automatic compensation to customers.
"Broadband remains to this day, as far as I know, the only service you can still buy with no guarantees about what exactly it is you're going to get," said Cable.co.uk consumer telecoms analyst Dan Howdle.
"By emphasising the slowest speed a customer is likely to get at peak times, speed numbers are likely to more closely match user experience."