UK considers making ISPs, particularly cable companies, tell customers the truth

by Steve Blum • , ,

A consumer protection proposal by the United Kingdom’s telecoms regulator does two useful things: it would require Internet service providers to state a minimum speed they’ll deliver, even under peak load conditions, and it takes a big step towards eliminating the artificial distinction between telephone and cable companies.

The U.K.’s office of communications – Ofcom – says it’s planning to do three things

  • Improve speed information at the point of sale and in contracts, by reflecting the slower speeds people can experience at ‘peak’ times; and by ensuring providers always give a minimum guaranteed speed before sale.
  • Strengthen the right to exit if speeds fall below a guaranteed minimum level. Providers would have a limited time to improve speeds before they must let customers walk away penalty-free. For the first time, this right to exit would also apply to contracts that include phone and pay-TV services bought with broadband.
  • Increase the number of customers who benefit from the codes, by expanding their scope to apply to all broadband technologies.

The last point particularly refers to plans to extend the new rules to include cable operators. Existing codes of practice “apply mostly to broadband over copper-based phone lines”, but cable has more problems according to Ofcom’s research which “showed that the variation in speeds at busy times is more notable for cable connections than for copper-based services”.

It’s similar to the regulatory distinctions made here in California. Telephone companies are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission, at least insofar as services delivered using POTS (plain old telephone service) technology, are concerned. That includes old school DSL, but not pure Internet protocol services such as AT&T’s Uverse offerings. Cable operators sorta fall under the CPUC’s jurisdiction – it grants statewide video service franchises – but there’s no teeth to back it up.

A final decision by Ofcom is expected next year.