Not up to speed: Broadband providers giving customers incomplete information about deals

Some of the UK’s biggest broadband providers are inadequately informing customers about speeds when they are buying a new broadband deal, research from Which? reveals.

With Ofcom introducing an updated Code of Practice for providers in March 2019, Which? mystery shopped broadband companies to see if they met the current guidelines, as well as how prepared they were for the renewed requirements.

Each provider received 12 calls from the consumer champion’s mystery shoppers, who gave them an address where they were moving to. The snapshot research recorded whether sales agents gave all of the information currently recommended by Ofcom’s Code of Practice, without being asked for it. It also looked at how well providers are prepared for future requirements, designed to make speeds even clearer.

Overall, broadband providers gave the information currently required under the code less than half (47%) of the time. Under the code, providers should give customers estimated home speeds ‘as early as practicable’ within the sales process – such as when you give your address. They should also explain that speeds can be influenced by a range of factors, such as network capacity and the number of subscribers to the service.

TalkTalk advisers only gave information about estimated speeds five times out of 12, and advice about speeds was not given in any of the 12 calls. Overall, it was outperformed by four providers (SSE, Utility Warehouse, Post Office and John Lewis Broadband) that haven’t yet signed the code, which is voluntary and self-regulated.

Vodafone finished second bottom, with EE Broadband one place above. Both are also signed up to Ofcom’s guidelines, but Vodafone provided information about estimated speeds just seven times out of 12, with the total for EE standing at 8. Neither provider gave advice about the factors that can influence speeds.

When it came to meeting the requirements set out by Ofcom, Sky’s pre-prepared statement, in which speed data is outlined to potential customers, helped to make it the best performing provider by far. It offered estimated speeds and additional advice on 21 out of 24 occasions.  It was followed by Zen Internet in second and SSE in third, with the two companies providing the details expected on 14 and 13 occasions respectively.

The results follow the announcement from Ofcom this year that confirmed even tougher requirements for providers are to be introduced to the Code of Practice. By March 2019, those signed up will be expected to provide minimum guaranteed speeds upfront, along with details about speeds people can expect at peak times. Which? also assessed providers’ performance against these future requirements, but results were poor overall – only Zen Internet, EE Broadband and Vodafone proactively offered information about minimum guaranteed speed at least half of the time and no provider gave information about peak speed.

Which? supports the action Ofcom is taking to ensure consumers are given the information they need about speeds upfront when buying a deal. The consumer champion believes providers, some of whom are struggling to meet current requirements, should be taking steps now to be in line with new code as soon as possible.

Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:

“Having a clear idea of what speeds you can expect from a broadband deal before you sign up is your right, but our research shows that providers have a long way to go to meet their customers’ expectations.

“We support Ofcom’s action to strengthen the Code and providers need to play their part and implement the new rules quickly and update their advice as soon as they can so that customers have a clearer picture about what they’re getting.”


Notes to editors

  1. Are providers giving information about speeds? Current requirements:

Voluntary Code of Practice signatory Times estimated speed given Times advice about speeds offered
Sky 12 9
Zen Internet 12 2
SSE 12 1
BT 12 0
Utility Warehouse 10 0
Plusnet 10 0
Post Office 10 0
John Lewis Broadband 9 0
EE Broadband 8 0
Vodafone 7 0
TalkTalk 5 0

Are providers giving information about speeds? Future requirements:

Voluntary Code of Practice signatory Times a minimum guaranteed speed given Times a peak-time speed given
Zen Internet 11 0
EE Broadband 7 0
Vodafone 6 0
Utility Warehouse 5 0
Sky 3 0
John Lewis Broadband 2 0
Plusnet 2 0
TalkTalk 2 0
BT 0 0
Post Office 0 0
SSE 0 0

Each provider was called 12 times in January 2018. Times advice about speeds offered – Providers should explain that speeds can be influenced by a range of factors and what these are.

  1. TalkTalk said:

    “We always strive to provide customers with fair and accurate information at the point of sale. The Resident Broadband Speeds Code of Practice requires us to provide specific information before a sale is agreed. The mystery shopping calls were all terminated before this point in the sales journey. Therefore based on the information provided by Which?, we are confident that we fully complied with the Code.

    “Our sales team received tens of thousands of inbound calls in January so we don’t believe the twelve calls made by Which? mystery shoppers can be seen as representative of our service.

  1. Vodafone said:

    “We strive to provide customers with clear and accurate information on what speeds they can expect from our home broadband service. Therefore, it’s disappointing that we didn’t provide full details of available speeds on each of the twelve times your research team called us. We’ve taken the information you have provided us on board as we continually look to improve our communications to customers.”

  2. EE Broadband said:

    “EE actively supports Ofcom’s Code of Practice and this is something our sales advisors are trained to follow. We monitor and check calls to make sure our customers receive the best possible advice when choosing a broadband plan. We know that Ofcom is currently updating the code, so we’ll be training all our sales advisors on the proposed changes, ready to meet the new requirements when these come into action.”

  3. Virgin Media is signed up to the code but is not included as it does not use the Openreach network and is not subject to the rules of the code in the same way.
  4. In response to the results, Ofcom said: “Providers need to up their game. Our own mystery shopping showed that compliance has been getting better, but it also raised some concerns that we’ve raised with providers”.

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