After another week of frustration for unmetered internet users, calls for the establishment of an official ISP regulatory body have intensified.
For consumers desperate for information about delays and problems to a service, there is no real regulatory organisation in place. The limited powers of voluntary organisations such as the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) have also been questioned.
The ISPA, established in 1995, has argued for self-regulation among ISPs to avoid the hindrance of unnecessary legislation. It has developed a code of practice for ISPs, which addresses service quality, but ISPs are not required to join this body.
This week, the ISPA criticised Lineone for behaving in breach of its code of conduct after it stopped its unmetered service with telco Quip. The group told Lineone the matter was very serious and if the company did not respond it "undermines the position of ISPA as a self-regulatory body and calls into question Lineone's agreement to comply with the code".
Lineone said it has responded to the ISPA's letter and has addressed all issues and questions raised by the body. "Lineone believes it had addressed fully the issues, and has been fair and responsible to everyone," said a spokesman. "We will now wait for ISPA to examine our response."
Yet despite the ISPA's actions, consumers are still confused about who to turn to. If an ISP is not a member of ISPA, consumers can face a myriad of paths to go down. Consumers can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority, the Trading Standards Authority or Oftel.
The Consumers Association advises users to check if an ISP is a member of ISPA before it begins to use a service. "One way for consumers to check an ISP is through ISPA, but it offers no guarantee. The body hasn't got the capability to make huge sanctions," said a Consumers Association spokesman.
The UK advertising watchdog said it has received more than a hundred complaints against ISPs, with these figures growing each week. So far, complaints about cable operator NTL have reached 144, Lineone has attracted four complaints, while Madasafish, The Free Internet, 4Unet and Breathe have all received one complaint.
The Advertising Standards Authority can investigate whether there is sufficient evidence to uphold a complaint but can not help regulate the area.
The UK telecoms industry is governed by government watchdog Oftel, but it also has no power over ISPs. "We are aware of consumer concern over ISPs but it is not something we control," said an Oftel spokeswoman.
This week Breathe came under fire for throwing 500 "heavy users" off of its unmetered internet service. Sean Gardner, chief operating officer at Breathe, believes that some form of consumer body is a good initiative and can help ISPs communicate better with users.
"Breathe is not a member of ISPA as I am not convinced of the value of it," he said. "The telecoms industry is regulated by Oftel with clear parameters, but this does not exist in the same formula for ISPs. An independent third party could help us communicate better with our users and can take the emotion out of it."
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