Ofcom issues new guidance on customer information about fibre networks

December 13, 2023

In March 2023, Ofcom consulted on proposals to improve the information available to consumers, and published research which found that when choosing a broadband service, some people would find it useful to have information about the underlying technology used to deliver their services. It has now issued guidance to broadband providers about giving consumers clear information about their service when signing up to a new deal. It provides that broadband providers must tell consumers about the network that underpins their broadband service and must only use terms that are clear and unambiguous.

To date, the term ‘fibre’ has been used to describe both old and new networks, but in future, broadband providers will need to be clear about whether the network they use is a new ‘full-fibre’ network – with fibre all the way to a customer’s home – or a ‘part-fibre’, ‘copper’, or ‘cable’ network. This information must be given to consumers before they purchase a broadband service, regardless of how they sign up.

Consumer confusion

Customers are increasingly able to choose from a range of different network technologies for their broadband service. However, the term ‘fibre’ is being applied inconsistently by the telecoms industry and is often used to describe different types of networks. In particular, some providers use the term ‘fibre’ which is ambiguous, as it could refer to a few different technologies, notably fibre to the cabinet (FTTC), fibre to the premises (FTTP), or cable technologies.

Ofcom says that this is confusing for consumers, although the ASA has disagreed, and even though the ASA’s decision was subject to judicial review, the courts agreed with the ASA. It will be interesting to see if the ASA amends its approach once the new Ofcom rules come into effect.

New industry guidance

In summary, the guidance states:

  • providers should give a short description of the underlying network technology of each broadband product using one or two terms that are clear and unambiguous, such as ‘cable’, ‘copper’, ‘full-fibre’ or ‘part-fibre’. These descriptions should be offered at point of sale on the website, and before the final purchase in contract information, and in the contract summary;
  • the term ‘fibre’ used in isolation is ambiguous, so it should not be used on its own to describe the underlying broadband technology. This would mean, for instance, that ‘full-fibre’ (or a similar term) is only used to describe networks which use fibre-optic cables all the way from the exchange to the home. Similarly, ‘part-fibre’ (or a similar term) would describe those services with a fibre-optic connection from the local exchange to the street cabinet and then usually a copper wire connecting the street cabinet to the customer’s home; and
  • providers should give a more thorough explanation of the underlying broadband technology – for example through a link – so that consumers can understand in more detail what it means for them. This information must be provided in an accessible form that is easy to understand.

Ofcom says that this information is important because the different underlying network technologies can have implications for performance. Notably, on the Openreach network, FTTP can provide a more reliable service than FTTC, as it is less prone to faults.

The new guidance will apply from 16 September 2024, giving broadband providers nine months to implement the necessary changes.