Ofcom’s chief executive Ed Richards has called for ISPs to be more transparent in the real connection speeds that they are offering consumers, but suggested that the public may have to pay to access high bandwidth utilities like the BBC iPlayer.

Richard believes that customers' current concerns are as much about call centres as the disparity between the advertised speeds and what they actually get – but that this is changing fast. He was speaking to the Institution of Engineering and Technology when he made the comments.

Consumer satisfaction

"There are… some real challenges to consumer satisfaction," said Richards.

"The evidence, so far, is that this is more to do with the quality of technical help-desk support than with line speeds or usage limits. That may be beginning to change, as more and more users realise that adverts promising ‘up to X’ in headline line-speeds are in fact a far cry from their individual day-to-day experience.

"So we would encourage the ISPs to provide more hard information up-front to consumers and are undertaking research which, we hope, will lead to reliable quality of service metrics which will let consumers compare which ISP is most likely to provide the kind of service that consistently matches the individual’s maximum line-speed.

"In other words a real indicator of quality to complement the more transparent information on price."

iPlayer and bandwidth problems

The problem of bandwidth is a real political hot potato at the moment, and Richards believes that the public will come around to the idea of paying.

"The growth in usage of services like the iPlayer is bringing more consumers into contact with their ISP’s policies on restricting bandwidth usage.

"This is creating tensions with online rebellions against caps and ‘bandwidth throttling’. But in the longer term, it may be that some consumers will be willing to pay a premium for higher download limits and higher speeds."

Summing up, Richards admitted that drawing a line in the sand for an evolving industry is difficult.

"We are keen to secure the right regulatory environment," he concluded. "But remember that, ultimately, the primary investment case for these new networks is one that must be made by the operators and judged in the market."