UK ISPs to be forced to simplify broadband advertising

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has decided the way broadband packages are advertised is too confusing for consumers and told ISPs to simply things by the end of October 2016.

The ASA published a report in partnership with Ofcom back in January essentially saying the same thing and has spent the intervening time speaking to various stakeholders to make sure it was right, which it was apparently. Having failed to exert any influence over Openreach the group of UK MPs calling themselves BIG has also jumped on this bandwagon, possibly seduced by the prospect of a guaranteed win.

In the January survey 81% of participants were unable to calculate correctly the total cost of a broadband contract when asked to do so and 22% of were still not able to identify correctly the total cost per month even after a second viewing of the ad. The biggest issue seems to be the separation of the line rental from the rest of the tariff, but there will typically be a number of bolt-ons and extras too.

“We recognise the importance of broadband services to people’s lives at work and at home,” said ASA Chief Exec Guy Parker. “The findings of our research, and other factors we took into account, showed the way prices have been presented in broadband ads is likely to confuse and mislead customers.

“This new tougher approach has been developed to make sure consumers are not misled and get the information they need to make well-informed choices. We’ll support the broadband industry as they move towards changing their approach in time for the October 31 deadline.”

Here’s what ISPs need to do with their advertising if they don’t want to spend Christmas on the naughty step:

  • Show all-inclusive up-front and monthly costs; no more separating out line rental
  • Give greater prominence for the contract length and any post-discount pricing
  • Give greater prominence for up-front costs

UK ISP TalkTalk was quick to acquiesce. “As long as line rental and broadband are priced separately, the temptation to advertise deals in this way will always be there,” said Tristia Harrison, TalkTalk’s Consumer Managing Director.

“But it’s time for providers be honest about this – it’s a bad habit we have all been guilty of, it doesn’t serve customers well and it’s time it stopped. That’s why we agree with the Government, the consumer groups and the ASA; and why we called on the regulator, Ofcom, last year to address the problem… But TalkTalk can’t do this alone. Until other providers follow our lead, households across the UK risk being misled by seemingly good deals that all too often mask extra charges.”

UK broadband market leader BT has yet to comment, but the recommended changes don’t look too severe and it should be a minor matter to tweak its marketing. In one sense this could be viewed as a win as now everyone won’t see how much of their bill goes on BT line rental rather than value added services.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies

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