Broadband advertising guidelines aren't protecting consumers
Efforts to make broadband advertising clearer and less misleading are failing, to the detriment of consumers across the country.
At present, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is responsible for policing the sector, ensuring that promos - whether they appear in newspapers, on telly or in other channels - fit in with its various guidelines.
The problem lies in the fact that the regulator is pretty toothless when it comes to doling out justice. If the ASA decides a certain ad has broken the rules, all it can do is ban the internet service provider from using the ad again in the same form - but given the relatively short shelf life of most adverts, this doesn't really seem like much of a punishment.
Without the power to impose hefty financial penalties, the ASA is never going to succeed in forcing broadband advertisers to clean up their act.
This slightly depressing truth is borne out by the number of times the same companies fall foul of the regulator.
When it comes to repeat offences, the likes of BT, Sky and Virgin Media are all guilty. Just this month, BBC One's Watchdog detailed an investigation into Virgin Media's advertising practices, inspired by the ASA's decision to ban 25 of the cable company's promos in the last year-and-a-half alone.
A cursory Google search shows you that Sky, BT and TalkTalk have hardly been squeaky clean in the advertising stakes this year, either.
Far from protecting consumers against misleading claims in broadband ads, the ASA could even be making matters worse.
From April 1st, the regulator has begun enforcing guidelines designed to provide additional clarity on the broadband speeds promoted in advertisements.
However, the rules have come under fire from some quarters, with critics arguing that they will simply lead to ISPs removing all mention of speeds from their ads and instead directing would-be customers towards line checkers.
Any supposed 'solution' that results in consumers being given less information rather than more has to be seen as a step backwards.
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