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Watchdog seeks broadband advertising changes to ensure speed expectations met

Published 17/11/2016

Speeds quoted in broadband adverts need apply to a minimum of 10% of customers
Speeds quoted in broadband adverts need apply to a minimum of 10% of customers

A watchdog has called for more changes to broadband advertising after finding that consumers have a low understanding of the speed they need and are unlikely to receive the headline claims quoted by providers.

A study for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that consumers have a "low overall" understanding of broadband speed, with many not knowing what level they need to carry out their daily online tasks.

While most understand that the higher the number in the ad, the higher the speed of broadband, many are unclear about what this means for them and what speed they are likely to receive.

But despite the uncertainty, most think they are likely to receive a speed at or close to the headline claim "when, for many, that is not likely to be the case", the ASA said.

Current standards say speeds quoted in broadband adverts need apply to a minimum of just 10% of all customers, providing they include the words "up to".

The ASA has called for changes to ensure consumers are not misled, and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), which sets the standards, has announced it is to review its guidance to advertisers and report back in spring next year.

Previous independent testing by consumer groups has found that up to three quarters of households are paying for advertised broadband speeds that they have never received.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: "Our new research indicates that speed claims in ads contribute to consumers' expectations of the broadband speeds they'll receive, but their expectations are not being met. That needs to change."

An Ofcom spokeswoman said: "Ofcom is concerned about the gap between advertised broadband speeds and what people actually receive.

"We're pleased that the ASA has confirmed it will bring about changes to advertising practices, so that broadband customers can shop with greater confidence."

Last month new rules came into effect forcing broadband suppliers to make their price adverts clearer.

Firms can no longer separate the line rental and monthly cost of an internet connection, under changes brought in by the ASA, and must give greater prominence to the length of contracts, prices after any initial discount has ended and up-front costs like installation or activation fees.

Digital Minister Matt Hancock said he was " delighted" at the ASA's move, adding: " Headline 'up to' speeds that only need to be available to 10% of consumers are incredibly misleading. Customers need clear, concise and accurate information in order to make an informed choice.

"Too many people aren't getting the speeds they thought they signed up for, and it is vital this is put right as soon as possible."

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: " As more and more services move online - like household bills and applications for benefits - people need to know that the broadband speed they are signing up for is what they will actually get. One in five of the broadband cases we help with each year on poor service is about speed.

"It's good news for consumers that the ASA is proposing to change the rules to make it much clearer what broadband speeds people can expect to receive. This will help people shop around for the best deal."

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