Ofcom has warned ISPs they need to be clearer about download speeds and traffic management policies and their effects.
Traffic management systems are used by ISPs to deal with congestion of their networks, for example slowing certain traffic down and accelerating others. Ofcom says that while ISPs already offer some information to consumers on traffic management “it currently does not go far enough and needs to be made clearer and easier to understand”.
In March this year, the UK's biggest ISPs agreed to a voluntary code of practice set out by Ofcom that included producing a Key Facts Indicator (KFI) that set-out the different traffic management policies used. However, the regulator believes this information "is likely to be of most use to technically savvy consumers" and further measures are needed to ensure all UK web users understand how traffic on networks are managed.
Ofcom now wants ISPs to provide at point of sale average speed information that indicates the level of service consumers can expect to receive, along with information about the impact of any traffic management systems and the specific services their used. ISPs should also be highlighting any services that are blocked, which means consumers can not run the services and applications of their choice.
Furthermore, the regulator calls for terms used to describe net services should be "clear".
"In particular, a consumer paying for 'internet access' should expect this to include the full range of services available over the open internet. ISPs should not use the term 'internet access' to refer to a service that blocks lawfully available internet services," Ofcom said.
The regulator said if improvements are not made, it will consider introducing a minimum level of information that's required by law.
"The internet plays an important role in the lives of citizens, consumers and industry. We now expect and depend on access to the content and services it has to offer," said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards
"How ISPs control access to the internet affects us all and it is important that we are able to understand how our access might be restricted. Ofcom is now looking to the ISPs to ensure that transparent information is available, and will consider intervening if it does not see improvements".
Ernest Doku, tech expert at comparison site uSwitch.com, said that while traffic management is necessary as the web is "becoming ever more congested as people increasingly use the internet for bandwidth-heavy services such as downloading movies and music, as well as watching TV online", transparency and clarity is missing.
"As a result, many broadband customers have not been able to enjoy the speed of service advertised at the point of sale," Doku said.
"Following today's move, we can now expect consumers to know upfront about average speeds and the effects of traffic management on those speeds before they sign up to a broadband package. This is a huge step forward for broadband customers."