Major broadband providers will have to give customers a better idea of the actual speeds they'll get before they sign up from next year – and if slow speeds aren't improved within a month, you'll be able to walk away from your contract penalty-free.

Telecoms regulator Ofcom has today announced it will give its code of practice a bit more oomph in 2019, putting in place new requirements that will protect broadband customers who get slower speeds than expected.

The changes, which will come in on 1 March 2019, will apply to the providers signed up to Ofcom's voluntary code of practice, including the biggest firms such as BT, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media. However, some smaller providers, including well-known ones such as John Lewis and the Post Office, AREN'T signed up to the code of practice, so the new rules won't apply to everyone.

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What will your improved rights be?

Here's a rundown of what providers which are signed up to Ofcom's code of practice will be required to do from 1 March 2019:

  • Provide more accurate speed estimates. At the moment, providers only have to give you an estimated speed range before you sign up, but from March 2019 they will have to provide "more realistic" peak-time (8pm-10pm) speeds. This is so you know what to expect when more people are online and speeds slow before you commit to anything.
  • Give customers a minimum guaranteed speed before they buy. As things stand, providers only have to give you the minimum guaranteed speed for any given package before you sign up if you ask for it. As of next year, they'll have to do this whether you ask or not.
  • Let customers walk out of their contracts after 30 days if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum. Under the current code of practice, providers are obliged to let you walk away from your contract penalty-free if your speed falls below the minimum guaranteed level and they can't improve it, but there's no time limit on how long they've got to do that. Under the new rules, if you see no improvement after 30 days you'll be able to can your contract without being charged.
  • Apply the 30-day rule to cable broadband – and packages that include TV and landline. At present, if you have cable broadband (ie, Virgin Media) or your broadband came bundled with TV and landline phone, you don't have the right to walk out of your contract should you not get the minimum guaranteed speed – full stop.

    From 1 March 2019, this will no longer be the case – you'll be able to walk away after 30 days, just as you would if your package was ADSL broadband-only. (ADSL stands for asymmetric digital subscriber line, and is the tech that delivers broadband via standard copper phone lines.)

Providers are being given 12 months' warning to make changes to their systems, develop new ways of measuring speeds and train staff before the new code comes into force.

What does Ofcom say?

Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom's consumer group director, said: "Broadband customers must know what they're signing up to.

"These protections will close the gap between the broadband speeds people are sold, and what they actually receive. And to give people extra confidence, we are making it easier to walk away – without penalty – if companies fail to deliver."