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Advertising regulators to crack down on broadband speed claims

Regulators are inviting consumer input on a number of proposals on how broadband is advertised

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) have opened a 10-week public consultation on proposals to tighten the rules covering how internet services providers (ISP) go about advertising their broadband services to users.

The regulators are planning to impose new conditions forcing ISPs to disclose clear information about peak-time median download speeds, 24-hour national median download speeds, and the range of peak-time download speeds and 24-hour national download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of consumers.

These options would also require any commercial making a claim about broadband speeds to tell users to check with their provider what speed they were likely to receive.

The current guidance on broadband advertising was introduced five years ago. In 2012, claims around maximum speed were seen as key, and the regulators recommended that ISPs only use maximum speed claims achievable by at least 10% of customers, which should be preceded by the words ‘up to.’

However, research commissioned by the ASA last year showed that these standards were actually confusing consumers, with a majority of people expecting to receive a speed close to the maximum claimed, when this is very rarely the case.

The options being proposed by the ASA and CAP are intended to better manage consumer expectations by offering a more balanced picture of broadband speeds, and to plant the idea that they cannot reasonably expect to get the same information from one-to-many advertising on national television as they might get from reaching out to their ISP.

We take an evidenced-based approach to our work. Research commissioned by the ASA persuades us that tougher standards are needed to prevent consumers from being misled by advertised broadband speed claims,” said CAP director Shahriar Coupal.

“For the next 10 weeks, we’re inviting views on four options for change, and remain open to any other options that better manage consumers’ expectations of the broadband speed they’re likely to receive.

“CAP recognises that advertising can play an early and important part in the journey to choosing a broadband provider. We’re determined to ensure the information it provides, including about broadband speed, is trusted and welcomed by consumers,” he added.

Steve Holford, chief customer officer of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband supplier Hyperoptic, said the consultation was a step in the right direction that would “force much-needed clarity” on the industry.

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“We also hope that the finalised guidelines from the ASA will force broadband providers to make clear exactly what service they are offering – there is a vast difference between ‘full fibre’ to the premises and ‘part fibre’ to the cabinet which still depends on copper phone wire,” said Holford.

“Full fibre will nearly always match advertised speed to actual connection speed provided to the home, whereas part fibre is distance dependent, unreliable and is today limited by technical capabilities.”

However, Andrew Ferguson, editor at broadband comparison site thinkbroadband.com, cautioned against viewing the proposals as a panacea.

“Given the short time the public is often exposed to TV adverts and billboards, information heavy messaging may confuse. Thus while the peak time percentile range is perhaps the most honest, it is also the one that will carry the most caveats and be the figure most likely to be gamed by advertising executives looking to push their product as being X Mbps faster than a competitor’s,” he said.

“It’s important to remember that if the speeds are low due to physical distance issues switching to another provider on the same technology is not going to magically improve the speed received,” added Ferguson.

Read more on Telecoms networks and broadband communications

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