UK MPs slam broadband advertising

A group of UK MPs initially formed to attack BT’s Openreach wholesale division has moved its focus to the accuracy of broadband provider speed claims.

The Openreach ship seems to have sailed, with Ofcom pretty much opting to leave things as they are so long as BT solemnly promises to play nice from now on. But the MPs, calling themselves the British Infrastructure Group (BIG) and led by Grand Shapps, are unwilling to let a good acronym go to waste.

The latest BIG effort is called The Great British Broadband Rip-Off and takes aim at the trend for broadband providers to advertise maximum theoretical download speeds when marketing their products, even when those speeds may only be available to a small proportion of users, some of the time.

“The way UK ISPs advertise their speeds and prices is a national scandal,” opened the report. “This is a mis-selling scandal potentially bigger than the PPI and VW cases because nearly everyone needs broadband. The British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG) therefore today announces its campaign to bring an end to the broadband rip-off.”

The report went on to detail ‘The Facts’, which include the advertising standards stipulation that the advertised speed only needs to be available to 10% of the relevant customer base, that an Ofcom code of practice on the matter is voluntary, that there are no statutory compensation standards for poor service in telecoms, and that throttling and ‘fair usage’ policies further erode promised broadband performance.

“BIG will therefore be campaigning for mandatory refunds for anyone who has been mis-sold a broadband contract,” concluded the report. “Consumers also need the power to leave contracts if they are found to have been misled. BIG will also be calling for greater powers for the regulators to step in and take real robust action against ISPs found to be misleading customers.”

Cam Cullen, VP of Global Marketing at Procera Networks, reckons consumers are looking for more than speed claims anyway. “Traditionally, operators have focused only on network volumes and speeds to try and entice customer to join them,” he said. “Yet customers are not only asking ‘who has the best network,’ but also ‘who can deliver the best subscriber experience?’

“Unfortunately for operators speed is not a good indicator of network performance, and they are now being challenged to better manage the subscriber experience and deliver a competitive differentiator through the quality of their service offerings.”

It’s not clear whether self-appointed special-interest groups of MPs have any influence over stuff like this. The Advertising Standards Agency, Ofcom, etc, will probably feel compelled to issue some kind of generic response indicating how seriously they take this sort of thing, but market responses such as the recent reports from Which are likely to be more effective and sustainable.

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