Broadband providers face new ad crackdown on ‘misleading’ speeds

The ad regulator is launching a public consultation as it considers toughening up standards for advertising broadband speed.

Broadband providers are facing new ad restrictions as the ad regulator looks to crackdown on “misleading” speed claims.

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) is launching a 10-week public consultation that seeks the views on different broadband advertising options as it looks to strengthen the standards around speed claims. CAP says while speeds vary depending on a number of factors and that one-to-many campaigns such as TV or outdoor cannot be expected to provide the same information as direct communications, more stringent regulations are needed.

The consultation will look at whether claims should be based on the following:

• Peak-time median download speed
• 24-hour national median download speed
• Range of peak-time download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users
• Range of 24-hour national download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users.

The hope is that the move will improve standards and better manage consumers’ expectations of the broadband speed they are likely to receive from different broadband providers.

The move follows research by GfK, commissioned by the Advertising Standards Authority, that found current regulatory standards were likely to mislead consumers. Current standards permit headline speed claims that are achievable by at least 10% of customers, where they are preceded with the words “up to” and qualified. However, many consumers are unclear about what speed they would likely achieve based on the ads they viewed.

“CAP recognises that advertising can play an early and important part in the journey to choosing a broadband provider. We’re determined to ensure the information it provides, including about broadband speed, is trusted and welcomed by consumers,” says Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP.

However, Virgin Media, which will be impacted by any changes to the ad code, has raised questions over CAP’s use of “peak time” speeds, saying using a two-hour period is not representative and that instead the regulator should look to a “more general measure of performance”

“Consumers are telling us that if the ASA is serious about making broadband advertising clearer, the new rules should be based on average speeds measured across a full day, rather than just taking a two-hour sample,” says Brigitte Trafford, chief corporate affairs officer at Virgin Media.

READ MORE: Broadband providers hit by ASA crackdown

Virgin Media commissioned its own research, carried out by ICM, which found that most consumers do not know “peak time” is between 8pm and 10pm. Just 5% of 2,000 people questioned got the right time period.

Jan Jesenovec, associate director at ICM, says: “Our research shows that there is a lack of understanding about the peak time for broadband usage, and using it in advertising could lead to confusion for consumers.”

The latest consultation follows the ASA introducing new ‘tougher’ rules on the way broadband providers advertise their prices last year. Those changes mean providers have to show all-inclusive up-front and monthly costs, giving greater prominence to the contract length, any post-discount pricing and up-front costs such as delivery, activation or installation fees.

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