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Advertising Standards: Broadband Speed Guidance ‘Not Working’

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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ASA: New guidance is on the way after a study finds consumers feel misled by current broadband ads

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has called for a revamp in the way broadband speeds are advertised after finding the current rules could result in consumers being misled.

The announcement comes two weeks after Internet service providers were ordered to alter their ads to make make monthly charges clearer.

Claims lack ‘transparency’

Fibre, network, broadband © Datskevich Aleh Shutterstock 2012Research commissioned by the watchdog and carried out by the GfK Group found consumers reacted “negatively” when made aware of the regulations governing the way broadband speeds appear in ads.

Providers are allowed to advertise that a service offers “up to” a particular speed if it would be achievable by at least 10 percent of users, but consumers “felt that the claim lacked transparency”, the study found.

“Because the speed advertised could be applicable to only 10 percent of customers they felt that based on the claim, they could not determine what speed they were likely to personally achieve,” GfK wrote in the study.

Researchers found that even those with more than average knowledge of broadband speeds typically anticipated they would achieve a speed close to that advertised, while those with less knowledge believed they would receive the advertised speed.

“It was clear that many participants envisaged that the advertised speed – or close to it – would be relevant to the majority of customers,” GfK wrote. “It is clear that speed claims need to be relevant to consumers, helping to manage their expectations regarding the speed they can personally expect to achieve.”

Review underway

“Most consumers believe they are likely to receive a speed at or close to the headline speed claim when, for many, that is not likely to be the case,” the ASA said in a statement. “These findings underpin our call for a change to the way broadband speed claims are advertised to ensure consumers are not misled.”

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), responsible for maintaining the British Code of Advertising, Direct Marketing and Sales Promotion, said it would review its guidance on speed claims as a result of the findings.

CAP director Shahriar Coupal noted there is no obvious alternative to the current arrangement, since the findings don’t “identify an obvious alternative way to communicate speeds that would be suitable to everybody’s needs”.

The CAP plans to issue a public report in spring 2017.

Keeping speed claims in perspective

Internet service providers said it was open to new guidance, but cautioned that speed claims should not be taken as more important to consumers than they are.

“Any new guidance needs to reflect that whilst speed is an important factor, it is not the only reason a customer decides on a deal,” stated Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) chair James Blessing. “Crucially, the ASA’s research has not identified an effective alternative for the current approach to ‘up to’ speed claims.”

The research noted that other important factors to consumers included customer service and brand, as well as, to a lesser degree, pricing and bundles.

Matt Hancock, the government’s digital minister, said broadband ads are currently “incredibly misleading” and that he was “delighted” by the review.

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