Carry On Lying In Broadband Adverts, ASA Tells ISPs

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ISPs can mislead users by advertising broadband speeds that are only available to a few, in new ASA rules

Guidelines have been published whch are supposed to make Internet service providers (ISPs) more honest in their adverts. But in fact, they are a licence to carry on pulling the wool over consumers eyes, critics have said.

From April 2012, broadband providers are supposed to comply with a “Help Note” issued by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), but they will still be able to quote “maximum speeds” which the majority cannot achieve, and describe capped or throttled packages as  “unlimited”. ISPs incluiding BT have been criticised by the ASA for misleading consumers in the past, and this document will not change that, according to consumer magazine Which.

Green light to mislead customers

“Broadband providers have just been given the green light to mislead consumers,” said Richard Lloyd of Which.

The Use of speed claims in broadband advertising document, developed from reports commissioned by ASA from the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), and don’t satisfy Which’s idea of fair advertising.

ISPs are still able to quote speeds “up to” a certain figure, but this will have to be achievable by ten percent of their customers. “Where advertisers make a numerical speed claim to be understood by consumers as maximum speed of their service, they should be able to demonstrate that the speed is achievable for at least 10 per cent of the relevant customer base,” says the ASA’s document – which outrages Which.

“Advertising campaigns can now be based on the experience of a privileged few,” said Lloyd. “If just one in 10 customers get access to the top speeds advertised, that’s within the guidelines.”

Similarly, capped services can be described as “unlimited”, “limitless” or “all you can eat”, even if they have a data cap, or a policy of throttling big users – as long as those policies are clearly explained in the literature.

That clearly could be interpreted different ways, but the guidelines say that these policies should not prevent “lawful peer to peer file sharing”, and if there are any arguments they will be sortedout on a “case by case” basis.

‘Providers should be able to demonstrate that limitations imposed on the speed or usage of a service do not prevent or hinder users from carrying out lawful online activities, such as streaming content, at or close to the consumer’s normal connection speed,’  the guidelines say.

At eWEEK, we suspect it is only a matter of time before a fanciful ISP  decides to offer faster-than light broadband using neutrinos.

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