BT and TalkTalk get low marks in broadband shopper test

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Mystery shopper tests conducted by Ofcom have revealed that UK providers are failing to inform customers about broadband speeds.

While some were usually upfront about the maximum speed users could expect, others were not.

TalkTalk and BT were the worst offenders, offering users a speed estimate without prompting in fewer than half of cases.

Providers agreed last year to better inform new customers.

Overall speed estimates were offered without prompting from the mystery shoppers in 59% of cases.

The providers most likely to give callers an estimated speed were Karoo (76%), Sky (72%) and Plusnet (67%).

There is often a big disparity between advertised speeds and what consumers will actually get.

Internet service providers (ISPs) have been accused of misleading the public by advertising speeds as "up to..." when few will actually be able to achieve the headline speed.

Campaigners are keen for new rules to make it easier for consumers to know exactly what they are getting from services.

Processes changing

There are many factors that affect what speed customers will get, with the distance they live from the telephone exchange being the principal one.

In July 2011, ISPs agreed with Ofcom to offer customers maximum speed estimates for the area they live in as early as possible in the sales process.

Both TalkTalk and BT have agreed to change their processes following the mystery shopper tests.

"We strongly support the Ofcom speed code of practice and ensure that anyone who buys BT broadband gets a personalised speed quote before they are committed to purchase," said a BT spokesman.

"Ofcom has suggested we should make a minor change to mention the speed quote earlier in the sales conversation, which we are happy to do and will implement straight away."

"It is vital that as the choice of broadband services expands, UK consumers get the best possible information when choosing a broadband provider," said Claudio Pollack, Ofcom's consumer group director.

Disappointing results

Michael Phillips, managing director of Broadbandchoices.co.uk, said the tests showed that more needed to be done.

"Speed is at the centre of a customer's decision to buy broadband, so the findings that only 59% of ISPs gave an unprompted speed estimate over the phone is disappointing," he said.

"It's clear that the current voluntary code leaves too much open to ISP - or call centre operator - interpretation and ultimately this means that it lacks any real teeth.

"Ofcom should be far more prescriptive as to when - exactly - a potential customer should be informed of the likely speed of the service.

"In the real world, customers like my mum wouldn't know to prompt the operator for this information and could be at risk of making an uninformed purchasing decision."

The regulator said that it would conduct more tests next year.

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