What are my broadband consumer rights?

Before signing a contract with an Internet Service Provider (ISP), it's important to understand your consumer rights. Here are a few common complaints and what you can do to resolve them.

My speed is very slow

Broadband providers often advertise an 'up to' speed, for example, up to 24,000kbps for ADSL2+, or up to 30,000kbps for coaxial cable broadband. However, these are theoretical speeds and while they are useful as a comparison between providers, you are unlikely to receive the advertised speed.

When you subscribe to a broadband plan, the ISP will advise you of the speed you can expect based on your distance from the telephone exchange.

If after signing up you find your broadband speed is consistently lower than the speed you subscribed to, you’ll need to contact your provider for advice. Your ISP has to make an effort to discover and fix the problem.

Once all avenues are exhausted and the problem is not with the cabling in your own home, or with your own equipment, you can ask to be released from your contract. If you bought your modem from the ISP you’ll be able to get a refund for it. The ISP should also refund any set-up fees charged, so you should be no worse off than when you started.

If you are not getting anywhere with your broadband provider, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is there to help you and can take on your case.

I'm having problems getting connected

Setting up a broadband connection costs the ISP time and money, so it is usual practice to charge the customer a set-up fee. The ISP should do a line test first to make sure the infrastructure will support an ADSL broadband connection.

If a Telstra technician has to visit your home to connect the line – which will typically happen if your line is inactive – you will be told the date they are coming, and you have to make sure you are at home. If the technician comes around and there is nobody home, you will probably be charged a fee.

You should also make sure there is enough money in your account for the set-up fee when you sign up, as the line test is often performed immediately. Money could be taken out within a few hours of you signing up – and if the payment bounces, you could be charged a fee by both your bank and the ISP.

Your ISP shouldn't start charging you for the internet until your broadband connection is active. If you find this has happened, you will have good grounds for complaint and a refund for any days you were charged for a service you weren't receiving.

Sometimes there can be a delay in setting up your broadband. While a straightforward transfer between providers can be done in a matter of hours, signing up to a bundle deal from scratch can take up to a month. Your ISP will give you an estimate of the time to connection upon sign up. If it is taking significantly longer than the time you were given, you would have a good case to be released from your contract and receive a refund.

My bill is higher than I expected

There have been many cases of broadband customers who have received massive bills they were not expecting. This is usually because they are on a plan that charges excess fees after a specified download limit is reached.

Excess charging is common on mobile broadband plans, but there are a few ADSL and cable internet plans that charge customers who go over their limit. Excess fees can be as much as 15 cents a Mb, which works out to a shocking $150 per GB.

Unfortunately, your provider is entitled to charge you for exceeding your download limit if this is in the contract you signed up to. If it is the first time this has happened to you, try calling your provider and explaining that it was an honest mistake. Often in the spirit of good customer service the ISP will make an offer to reduce the fee.

Switching providers

If you feel you are not getting a good service from your current ISP, whether it is because of technical problems, billing problems, or an unhelpful customer service team, you can always exercise your most basic consumer right and switch broadband providers.

Plans change all the time, usually for the better, and if you haven't searched the market for a while you may be overpaying for your current broadband connection. It's easy to compare providers and it might save you a lot of money.