Consumers may get the right to end their contracts with broadband providers without incurring penalty fees if they are disappointed with their connection speeds.

Ofcom, the telecommunications regulator, said on Wednesday that it was considering a proposal by its advisory panel that consumers should be able to break broadband contracts without incurring penalties where download speeds are significantly below those promised.

But Ofcom gave no commitment to implement the proposal, saying it would set out plans to deal with disappointing broadband speeds in the new year.

Some consumers are finding they enjoy nothing like the download speeds promised by broadband providers.

Many providers sell broadband deals offering speeds of “up to” eight megabits per second, but consumers find they get much lower rates.

In August, Which?, the consumer magazine and online advice service, said it found a “huge gap” between advertised broadband speeds and those users experienced.

A survey of more than 300 customers found that while they were promised up to 8mbps or faster, they experienced 2.7mbps on average.

Ed Richards, Ofcom’s chief executive, said in a letter to the Ofcom consumer panel that the regulator regarded the problem as a “vital issue”, adding: “We are keen that any measures are implemented in the shortest timeframe possible.”

One key reason consumers find their broadband speeds are slower than promised is the distance they live from telephone exchanges.

Broadband internet access is often provided over the copper wires running from phone exchanges to homes and offices. The bigger the distance and the longer the wires, the slower the speeds.

Ofcom is considering requiring broadband providers to tell consumers, before they sign up, what the copper wires running to their homes will support as maximum download speeds.

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