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German regulator to tackle misleading broadband speeds – take note Ofcom

Smiling teacher seating in front of blackboard

German regulator Bundesnetzagentur has outlined plans to hold ISPs accountable for when customers should be compensated for not receiving promised broadband speeds.

The move is certainly an interesting one, and will hopefully provide a bit of stimulus for other regulators to tackle the issue of misleading claims on broadband speeds. In the UK, consumers are regularly left frustrated over rules allowing ISPs to advertise attractive broadband speeds, despite the vast majority highly unlikely to experience the glories.

“We want to clearly define for the user when a non-contractual performance with respect to the download speed is available for stationary broadband connections,” said Jochen Homann, President of the Federal Network Agency.

“Users should be able to prove this to their provider by means of clear criteria. We are aiming at the speeds contracted by the suppliers. The suppliers have to be measured by their promises.”

The move itself follows up net neutrality rules from the European Commission which will force ISPs to disclose the minimum, maximum and normally available speeds to customers. Should German ISPs not be able to deliver on the promises, ‘the Internet access service shall be considered as a non-contractual service’, Bundesnetzagentur states.

Software will be made available to consumers to allow the measurement of speeds over a defined period of time. The Bundesnetzagentur team suggest at least 20 measurements. Non-contractual service would exist should one of the following conditions be met:

  • 90% of the contractually agreed maximum speed is not reached at least once in a measurement period
  • The normally available speed is not reached in 90% of the measurements
  • The contractually agreed minimum speed (even once) is undershot in the measurement period.

Although punishments for the ISPs have not been outlined just yet, there certainly is potential to shake up the industry. Germany has seemingly been in the same frustrating position of misrepresented broadband speeds as us in the UK, but at least their regulator is prepared to do something about it.

In the UK, there is an Ofcom scheme which holds ISPs accountable to promised speeds, however it is a voluntary agreement which does not guarantee compliance. In other words, the agreement isn’t worth as much as the paper which it is written on.

All the major ISPs have signed up to the agreement, but that hasn’t stopped the misleading advertised broadband speeds. Under current rules, ISPs can advertise a maximum speed should it be able to demonstrate 10% of customers experience the speed. Who cares about the rest though.

Virgin Media got in touch with us recently to highlight it was implementing new rules internally meaning speeds can only be advertised should the majority of customers be able to experience it. The team recently announced new packages available from March starting at 100 Mbps and rising to 200 Mbps for consumers, and 300 Mbps for business customers, where it claims the majority of customers will experience these speeds, not just 10%.

In an email to Telecoms.com, Virgin Media stated it has introduced a 15% overhead on the advertised speed so the maximum speed of the line is actually above 300 Mbps. In theory, should speeds drop slightly over the 24 hour period then the majority of our customers will still be getting the speed advertised. It certainly is a positive move for the industry, though sceptical individuals might believe few others would follow the lead of Virgin Media unless they were forced to by Ofcom.

So over to Ofcom. Let’s see if there is any fight left in the boresome regulator.


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