Do you get the broadband speeds you need? If not, you could be able to switch – the industry watchdog is introducing new powers to allow those stuck with painfully slow broadband speeds to leave their contract, without being charged for the privilege.
Until now, after the first three months of a broadband contract had passed, customers would find themselves locked into the deal. They'd only be able to exit the contract if they paid a penalty fee, even if they suffered from poor service or slow speeds, but happily, this will now be a thing of the past.
Ofcom has announced that it's strengthened the Code of Practice on broadband speeds to allow customers to exit a contract should speeds "fall below acceptable levels", and at the same time, is also making switching broadband, home phone and mobile providers easier.
The UK's largest providers will need to abide by the strengthened Code, including BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media. New customers signing up to a contract will now be able to walk away from providers during the whole term, not just the first three months, if they suffer problems that can't be resolved.
They'll still need to give the provider reasonable time to fix the issue, and the rules only apply to those customers whose speeds really do fall below acceptable levels, but it's a definite improvement for those affected. Hopefully, it'll alleviate some of the issues consumers have with broadband providers, as many are frustrated with customer service, said Sharon White, the new chief executive of Ofcom.
"When Ofcom was established, access to a reliable internet connection and mobile phone was a 'nice to have'," she said. "Now it is essential to the functioning of the economy, to the way people work and live their lives. [But] improving delivery to consumers doesn't just fall at the feet of the regulator. The delivery of first class communications services is primarily the responsibility of providers."
Ms White has outlined four areas of focus for the industry to improve upon. These are better information (to allow consumers to easily compare offers and make better decisions), easier switching (including coordination between providers for a smooth transfer), improved contract terms (no hidden charges or lock-ins), and better complaints handling.
Should companies break the rules, Ofcom can investigate and take enforcement action, ensuring that consumers don't have to go it alone. As part of the easier switching process, customers of providers on the Openreach network (such as BT, EE, Sky and TalkTalk) will benefit from a 'one touch' process that places the responsibility for the switch in the hands of the company the customer is moving to. "This will make a real difference for consumers and will encourage more people to take full advantage of competition in the sector," added Ms White.
The improved Code of Practice will take immediate effect, while the switching rules will come into force on 20 June. After that, the attention of the regulator will turn to improving consumer switching between mobile networks, ensuring that all communications avenues are covered.
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