Many broadband providers will be forced to give customers more accurate estimates of the speed they'll get before they sign up, under proposed new rules - and you'll have the right to walk away from your contract if speeds are slower than promised and don't improve within a month.
The telecoms regulator Ofcom today announced it plans to beef up its code of practice, with a series of new measures designed to protect broadband users who are getting slower-than-expected speeds.
However, while the biggest providers in the UK like BT and Sky are signed up to the voluntary code, many smaller providers are not, so the proposed changes won't apply to everyone.
For full help on checking and improving your broadband speed, see our Boost Broadband Speed guide.
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What new broadband speed rights will you get?
Here's a summary of what Ofcom's proposing:
- All customers to get a minimum guaranteed speed. As things stand, providers only have to provide a minimum speed estimate before customers sign up if you ask. Under the new rules, providers will have to volunteer the minimum speed before making a sale.
- The right to quit your contract if speeds don't improve within 30 days. Under Ofcom's current current code of practice, if you get speeds below the minimum guaranteed level, you have the right to leave your contract penalty-free if things don't improve - but there's no formal deadline. The new rules will give providers 30 days to improve speeds, and if that doesn't happen you can leave.
- Providers to give more accurate speed estimates. Currently, broadband firms only have to provide customers with an estimate of the range of speeds they’re likely to get. Under the changes, they'll have to tell customers of the slower speeds they'll get between 8pm and 10pm - ie, at peak times. (This should provide particular protection for those with a cable provider such as Virgin Media, as cable networks are more likely to slow down at peak times).
- The right to quit contracts that also include phone and TV. Right now, broadband customers hit by slower-than-expected speeds don’t have the right to walk away from their contract if their package also includes phone and TV. Under the new code, they will.
Ofcom's opened a consultation on the proposed changes. This will run until 10 November, and it says it'll then come to a final decision on the changes early next year. Ofcom will announce the deadline by which providers must meet the new requirements at the same time - so it could be some time until they come into effect.
While the biggest broadband firms in the country, like BT and Sky, have signed up to the voluntary code, some well-known smaller providers such as Plusnet and the Post Office aren't currently signed up to the code, despite saying they wanted to when it was last revised in 2015. This means the new rules WON'T apply to them.
What to try if your broadband’s slow now?
If your internet's snail-paced at the moment, and you'll have torn your hair out by the time Ofcom’s new requirements come in, there’s plenty you can try right now to improve things.
Find out how to test your broadband speed, remove interference from your line, position your router, improve your Wi-Fi signal and much more in our Boost Broadband Speed guide.
Ultimately though, you may need to consider switching provider - particularly if you're at the end of your contract's minimum term.
Our brand-new Broadband Unbundled tool compares all the deals from major providers, plus deals we've hand picked, including our own blagged deals and exclusives from other sites. It's personal to you as it searches your postcode and even checks if using two or even three different providers is cheaper. Find full switching info in our Cheap Broadband Deals guide.
What does Ofcom say?
Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s consumer group director, said: “We want broadband shoppers to know what they’re buying, and what speeds to expect.
“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.”