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Local Government: ‘Up To’ Broadband Adverts Are Misleading Rural Users

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

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Broadband adverts are misleading if touted speeds are only available to urban areas, says LGA

The debate surrounding the honesty of broadband advertising continues after the Local Government Association (LGA) branded them as “misleading.”

It said that advertised broadband speeds that are available to 10 percent of customers are “misleading” and doesn’t reflect the experience of many users, particularly those in rural areas.

Misleading Adverts

router internet DSL SOHO gateway broadband © Ensuper ShutterstockThe LGA pointed out that under current guidelines, service providers can promote “up to” download speeds if they can demonstrate that just 10 percent of their customers can achieve them.

It pointed out that broadband download speeds in many remote rural areas fall well below 2Mbps during peak periods, such as when children get home from school, holidays or after 6pm.

The LGA represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, instead wants service providers to quote average speeds in their adverts, rather than the much maligned “up to” speed that has caused so much controversy over the past six years.

It also says that upload speed should be considered as a key measure of performance alongside download speed, which should be advertised to consumers.

“Councils are working hard to ensure everyone has good quality internet access,” said Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board. “Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, access their bank accounts and even run their own businesses.

“As central and local government services increasingly become ‘digital by default’, more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds,” added. “The headline ‘up to’ download speed, which can be advertised legally, is misleading and does not reflect the reality of broadband service received across the country.”

“Broadband users deserve greater honesty and openness about the download and upload speeds they are likely to receive depending on their location,” he said.

Up To Controversy

rural broadband 1The controversy surrounding the use of “up to” download speeds in broadband adverts has raged for many years now. Back in 2011 for example, Internet service providers (ISPs) were instructed by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to be more honest in their broadband adverts.

But critics argued at the time that the ASA’s decision to allow ISPs to still quote speeds “up to” a certain figure, if it was achievable by ten percent of their customers, was tantamount to lying to customers.

In April the British Infrastructure Group (BIG), led by Conservative MP Grant Shapps said broadband advertising rules should be overhauled and mandatory refunds given.

Many ISPs in the UK have broken advertising rules for broadband line speeds over the years.

The Government meanwhile has pledged to give everybody the legal right to request a broadband connection capable of delivering a minimum download speed of 10Mbps by 2020 as a Universal Service Obligation (USO).

But it is estimated that the number of households unable to access 10Mbps by 2017 is likely to be as high as one million, with 100,000 of those in remote rural areas.

The LGA wants Ofcom to monitor the performance of connections delivered under the USO to assess whether providers are adhering to its specifications, especially during peak hours.

“The USO minimum speed should be linked to the capability of current market speeds and lock in an obligation on Government to continue to raise broadband speeds amongst the hardest to reach,” it said. “It should stipulate the USO minimum download speed as a percentage of average national download speeds.

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