ASA says Virgin Media is allowed to claim it’s faster than BT

The Advertising Standards Authority has decreed that Virgin Media’s claim “We are the UK’s fastest major broadband provider” is allowed, following a complaint from BT, but must provide better proof.

Virgin Media ran website and TV ads in August last year that made the claim that “We are the UK’s fastest major broadband provider”, which BT then made a complaint about to the ASA.

Part of the complaint is about the fact Virgin Media doesn’t have ubiquitous coverage of the UK, so there are areas where someone other than it would be the fastest provider by default. BT also made a more general point that the claim cannot be verified or substantiated.

The ASA seems to have concluded that on the one hand the average download speed for Virgin Media’s Gig1 Fibre is faster than other major broadband providers:

We reviewed the information Virgin Media had provided to substantiate the average download speeds stated in the ads. The methodology used to calculate the average download speed of their Gig1 Fibre service was in accordance with Ofcom’s Voluntary Residential Broadband Speeds Code of Practice and the CAP Advertising Guidance for broadband speed claims. The average download speeds for the other major broadband providers that Virgin Media had used were the providers’ publicly stated speeds, which we understood would have been calculated using the same methodology. We therefore accepted that Virgin Media’s average download speed for their Gig1 service was, at 1,136Mbps, faster than the average broadband speeds of the other providers.

But it also thinks the adverts were still in breach of rules because there wasn’t enough info provided in the adverts to allow consumers to verify the claim themselves:

We considered that Virgin Media did not necessarily need to make available the underlying data that had been used to calculate the median download speed of their Gig1 Fibre service. However, we considered that in order for consumers to verify the comparison, further information should be provided in ad (a) about the methodology used to calculate the figure for Virgin Media’s own speed, and to clarify the source of information for the download speeds for the other broadband providers. Because that had not been provided, we concluded the verification information was not sufficient to allow consumers or competitors to understand the comparison, and as such, the claim as it appeared in both ads (a) and (b) was not verifiable.

The upshot is that the ads are basically banned in their current form, and that future iterations would need to include ‘sufficient information to allow consumers and competitors to verify the comparisons made in their advertising.’ That feels like a technicality, so we’re inclined to view Virgin Media as the net victor of this scuffle. As ever with ASA rulings, this one comes months after the ad campaign in question, so its benefit to the consumer seems minimal.


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