Regulator Ofcom has been asked to take a lead in producing a code of practice encouraging ISPs to be more honest. Although the rules will probably cover other issues, it's the way ISPs advertise their services that's causing most consternation among customers. For some time now, the use of the phrase 'up to' has been causing confusion.

The Ofcom Consumer Panel has asked its parent organisation to draw up the code of practice in response to what it calls "consumer concerns", following meetings with the top six UK ISPs.

"We would like to see Ofcom leading discussions with the industry to produce an enforceable code of practice that would be mandatory for ISPs," writes Colette Bowe, chairman of the Ofcom Consumer Panel. Many consumers are thought to be paying for speeds that they don't receive, since they never find out the actual speed of their line.

"This code would establish agreed processes to give the customer the best information during and after the sales process, and to give them flexibility to move freely to different packages that reflect the actual speeds with which their ISPs are able to provide them."

ISPs take note

So, essentially, ISPs will have to tell you the theoretical speed you should expect when you sign up. Longer term, it may have an affect on the package you purchase, since those with lower attainable speeds won't want to pay over the odds for a service they won't get.

ISPs may have to backtrack, since Ofcom is suggesting that ISPs contact customers two weeks after installation to provide them with the actual line speed supported by their line

The Consumer Panel is also calling for both Ofcom and ISPs to make clear the factors that can affect line speed through advice on the web and also during the sales process.