Ofcom might have shifted the balance of power to the consumer

New requirements from Ofcom tightening up the rules around service guarantees from broadband providers might have put the consumer back in the driving seat.

The rules themselves focus on several areas, but there is one in particular which we like. Under current rules, a customer can exit a broadband deal if the service falls below requirements but the telco also has to admit it can’t fix the issue. The telcos have an undefined period of time to fix this issue, essentially meaning nothing could happen, but the new rules put a 30 day limit on the fix before customers have the right to ditch the provider.

Ofcom, which does try to position itself as a consumer advocacy group as well as an industry watchdog, might have done some very positive work here. The customer could rightly have the option to ditch a telco which is not performing as it should. The telcos will now have to care about current customers, not just acquiring new ones, which will be a very unusual position. Telcos have been abusing customers in recent years with contracts which are difficult to get out of or hold the supplier to any form of accountability; things might change now.

If these rules had been around before, your correspondent might have left his previous supplier earlier than he did. No names will be mentioned but it does rhyme with Mirgin Vedia.

“Broadband customers must know what they’re signing up to,” said Lindsey Fussell, Ofcom’s Consumer Group Director. “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.”

Before we all get too excited, the telcos do have 12 months to get their house in order before the rules will be enforced by Ofcom. When signing up, customers must be told by the telcos about realistic peak-time speeds (during 8-10pm for consumers, or 12-2pm for businesses) which will act as the benchmark. If the customer buys a bundle, there will also be the right to exit the TV and landline packages at the same time, should the broadband not meet expectations.

The telcos seem much more concerned about acquired new customers than keeping the current ones happy, but these rules could change that. We have always worried some watchdogs are all bark (or whimpering yelp to be more accurate) than bite, but these rules are a very positive step forward.

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