Ofcom has launched a voluntary Code of Practice for ISPs in an effort to clear up the confusion surrounding broadband speeds.
Almost all UK ISPs have signed up to the code, which is designed to give consumers a better understanding of the speeds they are likely to get and to ensure that they are on an appropriate broadband package.
Most ISPs currently advertise the maximum speed possible from a given connection. But factors such as distance from the exchange, line quality and contention ratio mean that very few customers get even close to the advertised speeds.
Ofcom's own research has shown that consumer satisfaction with ISPs has fallen dramatically over the past year.
"Broadband is a thriving market in the UK, but we want to encourage clarity for consumers about the actual broadband speeds they can receive," said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards. "This voluntary code is a significant step in this direction."
ISPs will be required to provide customers with an estimate of the maximum speed that their line can support prior to purchase, as well as offer the choice to move to a lower speed package when estimates given are inaccurate.
Providers will also need to update customers with information on usage limits and provide alerts when these are exceeded.
"The voluntary Code of Practice gives consumers better information about broadband speeds, and should enable consumers to make more informed choices," said Anna Bradley, chairman of the Ofcom Consumer Panel.
"Ofcom's strict monitoring of the Code will be key to ensuring its success across the industry and improving the situation for consumers.
"We are delighted to see that Ofcom will be carrying out mystery shopping exercises and we will be looking carefully at the results. If they show that ISPs are not in compliance, it will clearly be time to call for a mandatory Code of Practice."
The Internet Services Providers' Association (ISPA) UK has backed the move, but believes that the code should be extended to include wireless mobile operators that provide broadband over their networks.
The ISPA also feels that, while the code focuses on access line speeds, throughput speed is of much greater value to the user.
The organisation hopes to work with Ofcom and ISPs to find a way of collecting accurate information on throughput speeds to inform the consumer at the point of purchase.
Freshly launched 11nm Qualcomm silicon will come with Adreno 612 GPU
Are pinning down the exact rate of expansion of the Hubble constant
RISC OS 5 to form the basis of RISC OS Open after Castle Technology sells to RISC OS Developments
A smartphone maker fiddling its benchmarking scores? That's unusual, isn't it?