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Ofcom changes will help rural broadband users stuck with slow speeds

Friday, June 12th 2015 by Ellen Branagh

New Ofcom measures allowing broadband customers to cancel their contract if they suffer from persistent low speeds will help people in rural areas escape a digital “slow lane”, according to campaigners.

The Countryside Alliance said the measures, which will allow customers to switch broadband, mobile and landline providers more easily, are a welcome step.

Ofcom announced the new measures yesterday as part of a strengthened Code of Practice.

New customers signing up will be able to walk away from providers during the whole term of the contract, not just the first three months, if they suffer problems that cannot be resolved.

Other measures will make it easier for customers to switch broadband and landline provider, and next month Ofcom will outline plans to make it easier for mobile customers to change provider.

The Countryside Alliance's head of policy Sarah Lee said: “This is very good news for rural people, many of whom are paying for speeds they cannot receive because of a lack of infrastructure in their area.”

Broadband is no longer something that is “nice to have”, but a “must-have” for everyone in the UK, including those in the countryside.

“For too long rural homes and businesses have been in the slow lane of a two-speed digital economy.

“Being able to get out of contracts with companies that cannot provide a service and change providers to those who can, could prove very useful, as will better customer service and complaints handling.”

'Empowers customers'

The Countryside Alliance said research suggests that more than half of rural people do not feel the government is doing enough to ensure broadband is provided in their area.

It said that 1,509 interviews were carried out online by ORB International on behalf of the Countryside Alliance between 5-8 September 2014.

When asked which services should be universally provided, 82% of rural and 78% of urban respondents mentioned broadband.

But 56% of rural people did not feel the government was doing enough to ensure the service was provided in their area.

The Broadband Stakeholder Group (BSG), the government’s leading advisory group on broadband, also welcomed the measures, saying they empower consumers.

It said the proportion of consumers affected is likely to be “relatively low”, and will not apply to all users but to those who line speed falls below the minimum guaranteed access line speed, or MGALS.

In a group of people using a similar service, the MGALS is the fastest speed delivered to the slowest 10% of that group.

It added: “Nevertheless, this, coupled with the other announcements in the speech on switching, is a positive change which further empowers customers and enables them to make more informed choices.”

In her first speech as Ofcom CEO, Sharon White told UK providers that they must serve their customers better.

She outlined four areas of focus for industry improvements, including better information so consumers can compare offers; easier switching; improved contract terms with no hidden charges or lock-ins; and better complaints handling.

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