UK ISPs told to stop using ‘up to’ broadband speed claims

The Advertising Standards Agency has placed a slither of logic into broadband advertising rules, partly tackling the issue of misleading representations with the use of ‘up to’ in adverts.

As of 23 May 2018, UK ISPs are guided (note) not to describe download speeds using the phrase ‘up to’, but instead describe ‘average’ speeds, only quoting numbers which can be achieved by 50% of customers during peak hours. The hope is customers will have a more accurate representation of the actual services they will be purchasing from ISPs, though we imagine it won’t be long until the slippery marketers at the ISPs think of another way to screw the customer.

“There are a lot of factors that affect the broadband speed a customer is going to get in their own home – from technology to geography, to how a household uses broadband,” said Shahriar Coupal, Director of the Committees of Advertising Practice.

“While we know these factors mean some people will get significantly slower speeds than others, when it comes to broadband ads, our new standards will give consumers a better understanding of the broadband speeds offered by different providers when deciding to switch providers.”

Right now, ISPs can claim customers will experience ‘up to’ speeds, should it be able to demonstrate 10% of customers actually can. Many have criticised the practise as misleading, as 10% is not an accurate representation of an ISPs performance. And those people complaining should feel completely justified.

While this is a positive move from the ASA, you have to question why the advertisers need a six month window to get used to the rules. If the government changed the speed limit on the motorway tomorrow, we would still have to abide by the rules from tomorrow.

Alongside the rule change, the ASA has also released some research into how the term ‘fibre’ can be used in advertising. There aren’t any rulings to report just yet, but the ASA has some interesting snippets to report from the initial research.

  • The consumer thinks fibre is a generic buzzword to describe speeds within advertising
  • Fibre is not considered to be a differentiating factor when making a buying decision
  • Even after educating the consumer on what fibre actually is, they probably still won’t care

The purpose of the research was to identify whether those slippery marketers were being dodgy once again. It has been noticed that fibre is a term used in advertising to describe both full-fibre and part-fibre connections. Little has been done to distinguish between the two, or even let the consumer know what the difference is, but they don’t seem to care anyway.

This should not be viewed as a green-light for ISPs to continue the trend of misleading truths however. ISPs generally do not need any encouragement to exaggerate, and we wonder whether it is sensible for the ASA to essentially say it is not bothered.

As it stands, ISPs can only say it is a fibre service if there is fibre in the service. This should be obvious, but better state it just in case there are some ‘creative’ marketers out there getting some funny ideas. Advertising speeds should be relative to the technology on offer. Finally, ISPs are not allowed to say services are the most technologically advanced on the market if it is only part-fibre.

This is certainly a positive step forward for the consumer, but there is still work to be done. We appreciate performance will vary for customers, therefore there is a need for a broad brush in TV advertising, but considering the targeted nature of online advertising, we would like to see much more accurate and regionalised statistics.

The ISPs still have six months to rinse the ‘up to’ phrase, and then we’ll see what other nuances the slippery marketers can come up with to mislead the consumer. It should be noted, however, that this is merely guidance and there don’t seem to be any explicit sanctions in place should ISPs ignore the recommendations.

  • Cable Next-Gen Technologies & Strategies

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