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UK Local Gov not happy over broadband advertising claims

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The Local Government Association (LGA) has claimed advertised broadband speeds by some UK providers are misleading and may not reflect experiences from the majority of users.

While speeds of 30 Mbps are not uncommon in advertising, current rules allow broadband providers to promote “up to” download speeds, should it be able to prove 10% of customers experience the claimed speed. While this is not a new rule, and many consumers will be unsurprised by brands using playful descriptions in marketing campaigns, the difference between claimed speeds and what is actually experienced by some consumers might be a bit more unexpected. The LGA claims speeds in many remote rural areas fall well below 2 Mbps during busier periods of the day.

Although the LGA is perfectly within their right to claim download speeds “up to 30 Mbps” could be perceived as misleading, the team has not afraid to using vague terminology in its own argument. Part of the argument from the LGA is based on research which also uses hedging terms in its analysis: “Analysis by consumer group Which? found that the use of ‘up to’ speed claims have increased since advertising guidelines were introduced in 2012 with as many as 80% of ads now featuring them”.

“Councils are working hard to ensure everyone has good quality internet access,” said Councillor 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.”

The LGA believe there should be a change to current rules to represent a more accurate service which is provided to the consumer. By changing the “up to” speed claim to an average speed, it would give the consumer a fairer assessment of what is available. Upload speed is an area which caught the attention of the LGA also, as it often does not feature in advertising campaigns.

This metric is often omitted by broadband providers as the majority of consumers would judge their experience on download speeds, though the LGA claim the number of rural and small business who depend on cloud services, video conferencing and send large data files, justify its inclusion in advertising campaigns. Upload speeds are likely to become more relevant over the next few months as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter encourage users to upload videos as opposed to using text to share their thoughts. The use of video from both businesses and consumers in a social context will likely make upload speed a more relevant metric.

Although broadband providers claim speeds of up to 30 Mbps, the LGA has also quoted research which estimates the number of households that will be unable to access a 10 Mbps service by 2017 is likely to be as high as one million, with 100,000 of those in remote rural areas. Given the total number of households in the UK is 26.7 million according to the ONS, there is still some work to do to meet government targets. The Government 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).

The LGA’s argument is not a new one, as numerous individuals, parties and associations have raised concerns the ‘up to’ claim is misleading. What is clear from the statement is there is still a significant amount of work to be done if government ambitions for the telco industry are to be met.

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