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ASA broadband speed report: Cable.co.uk explains what it means for consumers

  • The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today published a report into consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims made in ads
  • The report reveals that most consumers believe they are likely to receive a speed at or close to the headline speed claim, when that is not likely to be the case
  • New research by Cable.co.uk shows that 80% of people find the way 'up to' speeds are currently advertised to be misleading
  • Participants believed two thirds (66%) of customers should be able to receive the advertised speed as opposed to the 10% currently permitted
  • Commenting on the data, Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms expert at broadband comparison site, said the ASA’s report is Cable.co.uk "rightly damning of slippery advertising practices” and that Cable.co.uk's own research shows broadband speed advertising is “unclear to the majority and grossly unfair”

Thursday 17 November 2016: Today the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published independent research into consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims made in advertisements.

Current standards permit headline speed claims that are achievable by at least 10% of customers, when they are preceded with the words 'up to' and qualified.

The qualitative research, which involved focus groups and in-depth interviews with individuals who had recently purchased broadband, switched provider or were considering switching, was commissioned by the ASA and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP).

It revealed that overall levels of knowledge and awareness of broadband speeds were low among participants, and it was clear that many envisaged that the advertised speed – or close to it – would be relevant to the majority of customers. Those participants with less knowledge believed that they would receive the speed advertised.

The ASA report found that broadband speeds are an important factor for consumers deciding between providers, yet many do not understand the speed they need to carry out online tasks.

The consumers involved in the research believed that current advertised 'up to speed claims are not transparent and not useful in helping people determine what speed they might expect to achieve.

The findings have prompted the CAP to today announce a review of its guidance, the results of which will be published in spring 2017.

Cable.co.uk commissioned its own research in which we reached out to 2,000 UK consumers this week.

Without informing them that current guidelines permit headline speed claims that are achievable by at least 10% of customers, we asked what percentage they felt should actually be able to get the 'up to' speed. On average, they felt that at least two thirds (66%) should be able to get the top speed advertised.

Without informing them that current guidelines permit headline speed claims that are achievable by at least 10% of customers, we asked what percentage they felt should actually be able to get the 'up to' speed. On average, they felt that at least two thirds (66%) should be able to get the top speed advertised.

Having explained that 'up to' speeds may currently be advertised so long as only 10% of customers can actually receive them, 80% of the people we spoke to responded that they thought this was misleading, with 58% saying they though it was "very misleading" (see tables below).

Commenting on the ASA report and Cable.co.uk's own research findings, Dan Howdle, consumer telecoms expert and Director of Communications at Cable.co.uk, said:

"If an amount of something is explicitly offered, most of us tend to expect to get what we see regardless of accompanying caveats. This psychological loophole has allowed advertisers to uniformly add the 'up to' qualifier full in the knowledge that customers will commonly pay it not the least bit of notice.

"More pointedly, perhaps, the ASA study shows that most of us understand neither what a megabit is, nor how many of them we should want or need, while simultaneously demonstrating that speed plays an important factor in what we choose to buy.

"The ASA's report is rightly damning of slippery advertising practices of an industry that has come to rely on a poor level of technical understanding among its customers, in order to repeatedly sell them more than they need, or supply them with less than they think they're going to get."

"Providers need to offer better tools to help customers understand the connectivity needs of their household, provide customers with speeds closer to those they advertise, and better ensure that those customers likely to receive a fraction of the advertised speed are amply forewarned.

"Broadband is the only type of utility contract in the UK it is possible to enter without knowing exactly what it is you're going to get. We wouldn't pay a fixed sum for an unknown cubic footage of natural gas, nor identical monthly installments for a mystery number of kilowatt hours. And yet this is exactly the proposition when buying broadband up until this point.

"In terms of what this report means for future rules, as with the recent ruling on the inclusion of line rental and up-front costs in broadband advertising, big changes are almost certainly afoot.

"As things currently stand, only 10% of customers have to be able to get the advertised 'up to' speed in order for providers to advertise within the rules. We would expect the ASA, then, to tackle this by increasing this percentage, which would have the knock-on effect of substantially reducing the speeds providers are allowed to advertise.

"Our own research, conducted this week, demonstrates that broadband speed advertising is not only misleading, but also unclear to the majority and grossly unfair. It is high time action was taken. The industry has got away with this sort of behaviour for far too long."

Tables showing the answers given by the 2,000 UK consumers in Cable.co.uk's research

Table 1: If a broadband package is advertised as 'up to' 17Mbps, what percentage (%) of customers do you feel should actually be able to get the full 17Mbps? Please select best match in percent. If unsure please estimate.

The past: the birth of mobile internet

Table 2: 'Up to' speeds may currently be advertised so long as only 10% of customers can actually receive them. To what extent do you feel this is misleading or clear?

The past: the birth of mobile internet

Notes to editors

Cable.co.uk commissioned OnePoll to interview 2,000 UK broadband customers between 11 November and 15 November 2016

If using our research and/or commentary we would deeply appreciate a link either to this page or to https://www.cable.co.uk

-ends-

What is Cable.co.uk?

Cable.co.uk is a broadband, TV and phone comparator, unique news source and consumer champion.

Dan Howdle has been plugged into the attitudes of UK broadband, TV and mobile customers for over two decades. Having spent 12 years at the coalface of consumer telecoms research, initiating and running projects both nationally and internationally on behalf of the biggest players in the industry. Dan is now Director of Communications and in-house consumer telecoms expert for Cable.co.uk.

An experienced broadcaster, commentator and writer who frequently appears on BBC TV and radio, ITV, Sky and in the national papers and their websites, Dan leads a team of journalists and communications folk who spend their days researching and reporting on problems faced by UK broadband, TV and mobile customers both on an individual and macro level.

Dan campaigns on many issues currently facing consumers of broadband, TV and mobile products in the UK. These include, but are not limited to: Rural broadband provision; mobile coverage; broadband, TV and mobile customer contract issues; broadband and mobile broadband speeds; switching and money-saving; infrastructural challenges; pricing, changes and structures; shifts in technology and the marketplace; telecoms regulation, policy and law; fines, adjudications and policy changes; mergers and closures of UK providers; annual financials and more.

Dan has advised Ofcom on issues surrounding service quality. He also administers and adjudicates the yearly Broadband Service Quality Awards and sits on the panel of judges for the Internet Service Providers Association annual awards.

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