Watchdog calls for changes to 'misleading' broadband ads

Broadband speed

The UK advertising regulator is calling for greater clarity around broadband speed claims, as many customers are unaware of the speeds they need or should expect in their area.

A report published today by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that customers have "low levels of knowledge and understanding of broadband speeds" with many "not knowing what speed they need to carry out daily online tasks".

Typically, customers understand that the higher the number in an advert the faster the speed, but many do not understand how this translates into day to day activities or what actual speeds they will receive, the study claims.

Many customers believe that the advertised speed will be relevant to the majority of broadband users for that service, which is often not the case.

Advertising standards currently permit companies to advertise speed claims that are achievable by at least 10% of their customers, so long as they used the term 'up to' in their slogans.

"Making sure ads don't mislead is at the heart of what we do," said ASA chief executive Guy Parker. "We've taken action this year to tackle confusing broadband pricing, to the benefit of consumers. Our new research indicates that speed claims in ads contribute to customers' expectations of the broadband speeds, but their expectations are not being met."

The ASA has called for changes to the way broadband speed claims are advertised, to provide greater clarity for customers to make an informed choice. However, it has not proposed an alternative method of advertising yet.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) will also be reviewing its guidance to advertisers on speed claims, and will report in early 2017.

"CAP welcomes the ASA's research and we'll now begin the process of updating our guidance and publish a response next spring," said Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP. "It tells us that consumers believe that advertising can only do so much, which underpins the importance of detailed broadband speed information being provided elsewhere."

Virgin Media told IT Pro that it supports reform of the advertising standards, which it believes allows companies to mislead customers.

"This is long overdue reform of a loophole which lets companies advertise a headline broadband speed if it is available to only 10% of customers," said CEO Tom Mockridge.

"Consumers should know what they're paying for and not be hoodwinked by a little known rule which is supposed to be in their interest," added Mockridge.

A BT spokesperson said: "BT supports efforts to make the advertising of broadband speeds as clear as possible for customers. For many years, we have given all customers a personalised speed range before they buy. We will continue to work with the ASA and industry on this challenge."

A spokesperson for Plusnet said: "We support the aim of the ASA to make things clearer for customers. We always try to ensure our customers know what they're getting by giving personalised speed estimates before they buy."

This story was originally published at 11.55am on 17 November, and was subsequently updated with broadband providers' comments at 2pm.

Dale Walker

Dale Walker is the Managing Editor of ITPro, and its sibling sites CloudPro and ChannelPro. Dale has a keen interest in IT regulations, data protection, and cyber security. He spent a number of years reporting for ITPro from numerous domestic and international events, including IBM, Red Hat, Google, and has been a regular reporter for Microsoft's various yearly showcases, including Ignite.