BroadbandNetworks

ISPs Face Ad Crackdown Over Misleading Broadband Speed Claims

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Industry free-for-all surrounding broadband speed claims about to end, as advertising watchdog issues proposals

Broadband advertising has for years now been shrouded in controversy over debatable speed claims made by many rival Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

But that could soon end after the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), the regulatory body that writes and maintains advertising codes in the UK, published four options to tighten up the broadband speed claims made by ISPs.

CAP is part of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), and its public consultation has now opened for ten weeks to allow the industry to respond to the proposals.

EE 4G SpeedtestFour Proposals

CAP has issued four ‘tougher’ proposals to clamp down on the broadband speed claims by ISPs.

It proposes that ISPs quote speed claims based on the:

  • Peak-time median download speed;
  • 24-hour national median download speed;
  • Range of peak-time download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users; and
  • Range of 24-hour national download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users.

It said that each option would also require the ISP making the speed claim, to urge potential customers to check with the broadband provider the speed they’re likely to receive.

The watchdog hopes that these options will “better manage consumers’ expectations of the broadband speed they’re likely to receive from different broadband providers, with each of them offering tougher standards for broadband speed claims in ads than the current position.”

The proposed changes came after ‘independent research’ found that the current regulatory standards were likely to mislead consumers.

At the moment, the current standard for broadband advertising speed claims allow for the headline speed claims that are achievable by at least 10 percent of customers. Current rules also dictate that the advert has to carry the controversial “up to” words.

Controversial Claims

It is fair to say that broadband speed claims have been hugely controversial over the past five years, as a decent broadband line speed becomes increasingly vital for many households in the UK.

Broadband speeds differ wildly depending on a wide variety of factors including the technology itself (fibre or old copper-based ADSL), and even down to the ISPs themselves, some of whom throttle line speeds.

The ASA and CAP therefore found that traditional broadband advertising “cannot reasonably be expected to provide the same information as one-to-one information direct from each provider about the speed an individual consumer is likely to get.”

But it seems that the research was unable to find consensus on what an alternative advertising standard should be that would ensure consumers are not being misled.

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

“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,” said Coupal. “We’re determined to ensure the information it provides, including about broadband speed, is trusted and welcomed by consumers”.

This is not the only probe into broadband speeds.

Last month the ASA said it would conduct a review into the advertising of ‘fibre’ broadband services.

That probe follows concerns that ISPs should not be advertising ‘fibre’ connections when in reality for most people in the UK, the ‘last mile’ connection (i.e. from the green street cabinet or DSLAM) to their homes or premises is via a slow copper connection.

Quiz: What do you know about fibre broadband?