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Digital minister: Broadband customers with slow speeds should have different contracts

Thursday, March 5th 2015 by Hannah Langston

Broadband customers may soon benefit from contracts that more accurately reflect the speeds they receive, digital minister Ed Vaizey has revealed.

Speaking at a parliamentary debate on the progress of the taxpayer-funded rural broadband rollout, Mr Vaizey (Con - Didcot) said the issue of customers having to pay for speeds they can’t receive was a “contractual matter for BT and its customers”.

“But it is an important point that I shall take seriously. We have already tackled relatively straightforward issues, such as stopping companies from advertising their speeds as the fastest speed that could be possibly received. We have asked them to advertise only the average speed that people are likely to receive.

“However, I want to look at whether we can have different levels of contracts for people who clearly receive slower speeds.”

The minister was responding to MP Tessa Munt (Lib Dem – Wells) who asked why consumers, who’ve contracted to receive broadband at a certain speed but then suffer slow speeds, receive no return on investment.

Ms Munt asked Mr Vaizey if he would look into the opportunity for different contracts based on actual speeds before the election.

Mr Vaizey replied: “That is certainly something that I want to look at and, given that I said that in an open debate, she can be assured that we will look at and discuss that with BT and others”.

Currently, ISPs can advertise an ‘up to speed’ if at least 10% of subscribers can achieve it.

BT 'could do better'

Yesterday’s debate was called by Devon MP Neil Parish (Con – Tiverton and Honiton) to address national concerns of broadband availability and the pace of the rollout.

“In some areas BT is doing a good job and in other areas it could do better,” he told fellow MPs, “delivering it to wherever people are is essential”.

“Rural areas are disproportionally affected – there are 12,000 premises that have no digital footprint whatsoever,” he added.

Many MPs argued for alternative suppliers and technologies to play a bigger part in the tendering process.

“Alternative technologies are being promoted, albeit very late in the day, and only, of course, after the bulk provision has been cherry-picked,” Meg Hillier (Lab – Hackney South and Shoreditch) added.

In what the minister acknowledged may be his last debate on broadband, Mr Vaizey said there are competitors such as Virgin Media and TalkTalk, Sky and Cityfibre’s joint venture in York but stated, “those involved must get investment”.

Defending claims BT was engaging in anti-competitive activities, Mr Vaizey said: “I will say this again and again and again—I make no apology for working for what BT is doing. We can argue about its customer service, and I am not BT’s representative”.

He added he was “proud” of the broadband programme and is “delighted it’s been delivered by a great British company”.

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