Watchdog demands action on slow broadband

LONDON Wed Dec 19, 2007 1:19pm GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Thousands of Internet users are being short-changed by Internet broadband connections that are slower than advertised, Ofcom said on Wednesday.

The Consumer Panel, which advises communications regulator Ofcom, said there was widespread discontent among computer users that broadband can be frustratingly slow.

Panel chairman Colette Bowe called on Ofcom to establish a code of practice giving customers more protection when they sign up for a high-speed Internet package.

"This code would establish agreed processes to give the customer the best information during and after the sales process," she said in a statement.

The panel recommended that:

- Companies should contact customers two weeks after installation to give them their actual line speed.

- Firms must allow customers who are unhappy with their service to switch to a different provider or cancel their contract without any penalty.

- The Advertising Standards Authority should work with the industry to ensure that broadband commercials give more prominence to the factors that affect speeds

Slow broadband can be caused by a wide range of problems and is not always the fault of the service provider, Bowe said.

Speeds depend on everything from the telephone wiring and quality of the line to the distance to the exchange. Viruses or a poorly maintained computer can also slow the link.

The Internet Service Providers' Association, a trade body which represents dozens of companies, including BT, Tiscali and Virgin, said it already has a code of practice and complaints procedure.

"Every broadband connection's speed will be different," it said in a statement. "Even neighbouring houses supplied by the same provider can receive different speeds due to a range of factors, including the wiring of the house and the amount of cable for each house used in the local exchange."

It said consumers should never choose a service provider based on price alone.

The government said last month that Britain's economy could suffer if it fails to build an ultra-fast Internet network.

Minister for Competitiveness Stephen Timms held a broadband summit to discuss how to upgrade the existing network, much of which is based on old copper wiring.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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