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Watchdog calls for shake-up of 'misleading' broadband speed claims

Thursday, November 17th 2016 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Broadband customers are being misled over what download speeds they will be able to receive, new research has found.

The ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) is calling for a change in the way broadband speeds are advertised to make it clear what consumers can expect to receive.

Currently, providers can advertise a download speed as long as it is preceded by the words ‘up to’ and can be achieved by at least 10% of customers.

But independent research commissioned by the advertising watchdog found that consumers’ expectations of the speeds they will receive are not being met.

The study, carried out by GfK, revealed that overall levels of knowledge and understanding of broadband speeds are low.

Many consumers don’t know what speeds they need to carry out daily online tasks, according to the report.

And most people believe they will receive a speed at least close to the one being advertised, when for many that isn’t the case.

'Expectations are not being met'

Speeds can vary immensely depending how far you live from your nearest telephone exchange, the quality of your wi-fi connection and a range of other factors.

The ASA wants the way speeds are advertised to change and the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) has said it will review its guidance to advertisers before reporting publicly in spring 2017.

The ASA has already introduced new rules affecting the way broadband price claims are advertised.

The changes, which came into effect on 31 October, mean the cost of line rental has to be included in the price of broadband packages and that up-front costs and contract length should be shown clearly in ads.

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “We’ve taken action this year to tackle confusing broadband pricing, to the benefit of consumers.

“Our new research indicates that speed claims in ads contribute to consumers’ expectations of the broadband speeds they’ll receive, but their expectations are not being met. That needs to change.”

Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP said: “The research provides good insights into consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims, but it doesn’t identify an obvious alternative way to communicate speeds that would be suitable to everybody’s needs.

“It also tells us that consumers believe that advertising can only do so much, which underpins the importance of detailed broadband speed information being provided elsewhere.”

'Vital this is put right'

Cable.co.uk's own research found that 80% of broadband customers find the current rules on speed claims to be either “very misleading” or “somewhat misleading”.

Only 3% of those surveyed felt the way broadband speed claims are advertised to be “very clear” or “somewhat clear”.

On average, respondents thought at least two thirds of customers (66%) should be able to get the top speed advertised by a provider.

Digital minister Matt Hancock said: “Headline ‘up to’ speeds that only need to be available to 10% of consumers are incredibly misleading – customers need clear, concise and accurate information in order to make an informed choice.

“Too many people aren’t getting the speeds they thought they signed up for, and it is vital this is put right as soon as possible.”

James Blessing, chair of Internet Services Providers Association (ISPA), said: “Any new guidance needs to reflect that whilst speed is an important factor, it is not the only reason a customer decides on a deal.

“Crucially, the ASA’s research has not identified an effective alternative for the current approach to ‘up to’ speed claims and ISPA, alongside the wider internet industry, looks forward to supporting the ASA in developing a revised and evidence-based guidance on this and getting a workable new understanding of how speeds should be advertised.”

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