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Telcos will be honest if you force them to – Which research

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New research from Which has suggested telcos will be honest and realistic about download speeds as long as there are rules preventing them from blatantly misleading the consumer.

Following the introduction of new rules by the Committees of Advertising Practice in May, eleven broadband providers throughout the UK have cut the speeds claimed through advertising, some by as much as 41%. The guilty parties are BT, EE, John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Sky, Zen Internet, Post Office, SSE, TalkTalk and Utility Warehouse.

“Customers will now have a much clearer idea of the speeds that can be achieved when they are shopping around for broadband,” said Alex Neill, Which MD of Home Services. “For those still struggling to get a reasonable speed or connection, the Government must press ahead with its crucial plans to deliver the service that broadband customers need, without it costing them the earth.”

The dreaded ‘up to’ metric in advertising has been plaguing the British consumer for decades as advertisers unashamedly take advantage of the consumer through one of the multiple grey areas in regulations. The telcos are some of the worst around, though it we should hardly be surprised as customer care and transparency seem to hit rock bottom of the list of priorities and virtues.

Prior to the rule changes from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), as long as telcos could prove 10% of customers could achieve a certain speed, the creatives in the marketing department could say whatever they want. As long as new customers were being duped into contracts, who would give a second though the 90% who have been directly misled; they are tied up with small print for 12 months, don’t have to worry about them for a while.

The new rules, which are still by no means perfect but at least a step in the right direction, state providers now have to advertise speeds which are achievable for 50% of customers during peak times (8-10pm). Those who are able to prove the speeds are not considered satisfactory are handed a machete to cut themselves through the contracts red tape and ditch the offending provider.

Which claims prior to the rule changes introduced on May 23, customers were paying for paying for speeds which we actually 51% lower than what they signed up for. Among the offenders, TalkTalk has completely dropped advertising speed claims from most of its deals, while Vodafone changed the names of its offers from Fibre 38 and Fibre 76 to Superfast 1 and Superfast 2. Across the board from the worst offenders, today’s advertised speeds for the cheapest deals are now 41% lower than during the wild-west advertising fest.

While the news internet service providers are now being held accountable for speeds in advertising, there might still be a few ways those crafty marketers can trick consumers into signing up for services.

“While it is great that this change to the rules has pushed industry to bring its speed claims closer to the truth, it only goes to show why it is so important that the Advertising Standards Authority finishes the job it started here,” said Greg Mesch, CEO at CityFibre.

“Now is the time to address the use of “fibre” in adverts, as across the country people are still paying for services they can’t yet receive while being stuck on prehistoric copper-based infrastructure. The ASA must take its head out of the sand and change these antiquated rules immediately so that as full fibre becomes widespread, customers are able to make a genuine choice.”

Steps forward in terms of fibre might have been taken, though CityFibre is one organization which does not think the advertising watchdog has gone far enough. The ASA believes providers should be allowed to describe hybrid offerings as ‘fibre’ as the general public can now comprehend the difference between ‘fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ in advertising claims (or doesn’t actually care that much). As you would imagine, CityFibre is taking issue with the slight, and is taking the ASA to court over the matter.

Although serial-moaner and sh*t stirrer CityFibre doesn’t usually need any support to preach and proclaim, we tend to agree with Mesch and his cronies here. Broadband is now a staple in the diet of today’s consumer and this should be reflected in advertising. Such contracts are complicated enough, and consumers should not have to worry about where providers are taking creative licence.

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