UK consumers need a clear definition of broadband to prevent them from being misled.
That's according to the Consumers' Association (CA), which is concerned that there is "widespread confusion about the term 'broadband'".
Giving evidence yesterday to the Trade and Industry Select Committee inquiry into broadband, the CA said the term "broadband" is used to define a range of services with speeds of 128k upwards. But the watchdog argued that this only served to confuse consumers who found it difficult to compare different products and providers.
And it criticised Oftel, for the telecom regulator's indecision over a definition, saying that this "does not contribute to either regulatory clarity or public understanding of the term".
Instead, it called for a "meaningful" definition of broadband to be adopted by the industry that would help consumers make informed choices. One approach it favours is based on a clear understanding of what each product can do.
For example: tell consumers that it takes 30 minutes to download a four minute music track on a standard dial-up connection, 10 minutes on a 150k service, and 2-3 minutes on a 512k service.
"CA takes the view that a better definition of 'broadband' is only of limited use if it is not widely understood by consumers. Better consumer awareness of 'what broadband is' and 'what can I expect of it' will help consumers to make more informed choices, drive demand for services and products and so contribute to the development of UK broadband," said the CA.
Freeserve also called for a clearer definition echoing the CA's assertion that slower services marketed as "broadband" "may mislead consumers".
And it warned that if the market was to focus on those "cheap and cheerful" slower speed products then there is a risk that the UK "may fall behind its competitors" as a broadband-enabled nation. ®