In an update to the rules on advertising, companies such as British Telecom, BSKB and Talk Talk that include maximum broadband speed in campaigns will also have to state that the maximum can also “fall considerably short” of what a significant number of consumers might “reasonably expect”.
“Unlimited” claims can only be made, according to ad code body Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), if customers are not charged or suspended for exceeding limits.
The changes follow a public consultation launched by CAP last year at the request of the Advertising Standards Authority.
The “guidance” will be used by the advertising watchdog when adjudicating on rule breaches.
The major providers have all upped marketing activity in recent years in the battle to grab customers, often claiming their service is faster and more reliable than rivals, leading to an increase in complaints about advertised speeds.
Several firms have seen ads banned for misleading claims in recent years, often following complaints from rivals.
James Best, chairman of CAP, says: “This new guidance directly responds to consumer concerns by setting an appropriately high bar for advertisers who want to make speed and ’unlimited’ claims in ads. Advertising is only effective if consumers trust the messages they see and hear.”
Jon James, executive director of broadband at Virgin Media, which has campaigned to “stop the broadband con”, says the change signals a “long awaited victory for consumers”.
He adds: “The new rules are a big step in the right direction and the greater transparency will ensure people can make more informed choices. ISPs will no longer be able to hide behind generic terms or catch-all claims which they simply cannot deliver.”
BT, which has argued against the need for any change, reiterated its position that there is no misunderstanding among consumers about “up to” speeds. A spokesman adds that it no longer uses the phrase in its advertising.
Sky says that the speed estimates it offers are “transparent”.