- 9 Mar 09, 13:26 GMT
Reading Ed Richards' answers to your questions about broadband regulation, a couple of things strike me.
Firstly, it's clear that super-fast broadband - and how to get it to everyone who might want or need it - is arguably the most important issue now for the regulator.
But what also seems clear is that, for many broadband users, it's not the future that's the issue - it's the poor service that they're currently getting from their providers. And it's not at all clear that customers are being effectively served - either by the industry or by the regulator.
When we did our Broadband Britain series last year, we broke all records in terms of audience response - in 48 hours, around 60,000 people plotted their broadband speeds and, in many cases, vented their frustration that they were not getting what they thought they'd been promised.
The problem is that Ofcom is in some ways a victim of its own success - having delivered the competitive broadband market that was its aim, that market is so competitive that telecom companies seem to be cutting corners in a desperate attempt to win customers.
Mr Richards was very eager to mention Ofcom's voluntary code on the advertising of broadband speed (we have no information yet on whether that is having an impact), but also keen to stress that deciding whether claims about speed were accurate was up the Advertising Standards Authority. And it turns out that customer complaints are nothing to do with him anyway.
I didn't realise that until I took a look at Ofcom's website. At the top of a list of What We Do Not Do comes "disputes between you and your telecoms provider". That turns out to be the job of the Telecommunications Ombudsman - or Otelo. Feeling embarrassed that I'd never even heard of this body (how many of you have?), I headed for its most recent annual report. There I found that it had investigated nearly 5,000 complaints in the last year (2007/8), with a large proportion from one company - unnamed in the report.
There are high hurdles for getting your complaint heard by Otelo - your telecom supplier must have signed up to the scheme and has 12 weeks to resolve the issue before it can be passed to the ombudsman, although that period is being reduced to eight weeks.
And what were the big issues for those complaining? The annual report says that the common theme is poor service. That includes "erroneous transfer from another supplier" - the infamous practice known as "slamming" - and "loss of broadband or substantially reduced speed". And there is this paragraph about complaints over speed:
"...customers were promised high-speed broadband but the service failed to match either their resulting expectations or the company's claims. Claims were phrased in the terms of 'speeds up to 8Mb per second', which, while not inaccurate, were potentially misleading because the text of the advert failed to inform customers that only a relatively small percentage of subscribers could receive more than about 6Mbps and 50% would be able to receive less than 5Mbps."
So how many of those complaints about speed claims were ever resolved in the customer's favour - and were any sanctions imposed on companies? Otelo tell me it is not its role to impose general sanctions - that is Ofcom's job.
But in another area - slamming - it seems clear that just about every miscreant gets away with it. A document I've seen from Ofcom shows that in 2007, the regulator received 16,013 complaints about this practice - and presumably passed many of them on to Otelo. But over the same period, just one fine was imposed on a telecom company.
And I've just learned that the whole business is even more complicated than I thought. There is another body you can complain to - CISAS, the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme. So my conclusion? If you feel that you have been mistreated or ripped off by your broadband, prepare for a long and complex journey through the regulatory maze.
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