New guidelines for the advertising of broadband speeds came into force on 1 April 2012, but they’re unlikely to completely eliminate consumer confusion and disappointment.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the broadcast arm (BCAP) regulate the UK’s advertising sector. One of their chief responsibilities is to ensure that advertisements in UK print and broadcast media do not mislead consumers. On 1 April 2012, and following public and Ofcom consultations, B/CAP released new guidelines for the advertising of broadband packages in the UK to address the difficult issue of broadband speeds in advertising.
The convention had always been for Internet service providers (ISPs) to advertise their broadband packages with an “up to” speed that was equal to the theoretical maximum speed that the technology could achieve, in an ideal world, and barring any limitations.
However the majority of consumers would never be able to receive broadband speeds anywhere near the theoretical maximum of 20-24Mbps due to a number of technological limitations caused by the transmission of broadband over the copper-wire phone network.
The majority of the UK’s broadband packages are still carried to homes in this way, and several factors including the modernity of the local telephone exchange, the distance to a user’s home, the quality of the copper phone lines, high contention ratios and periods of increased network activity – all of these and more can conspire to dramatically reduce broadband speeds.
To address this issue B/CAP issued new guidelines that state that UK ISPs should only be able to advertise a specific “up to” speed if they can demonstrate that at least 10% of their customers can actually receive broadband at that speed. The intention is to make sure that consumers are not, in the words of CAP, “misled into making transactional decisions that they would not have otherwise taken”. Or to put it another way, to stop them from choosing a particular provider based upon a promised level of service that they’re unlikely to ever receive.
Following the introduction of the new advertising guidelines on Sunday 1 April 2012 the UK’s main broadband providers all moved to address them.
The first providers to amend their advertising were Sky and the UK’s biggest broadband provider, BT. Both had previously advertised their packages as being up to 20Mbps, but by early afternoon on Monday 2 April they had reduced these to 16Mbps, and 14Mbps respectively. BT also reduced the advertised speed of its BT Infinity fibre optic broadband product from up to 40Mbps to 38Mbps.
By Wednesday, Plusnet had followed suit and reduced their advertised speed to up to 16Mbps, while Orange waited until Thursday to announce it was reducing its advertised speed to up to 14Mbps.
However, some of the other key players in UK broadband, amongst them O2 and TalkTalk, opted to simply remove any mention of broadband speeds from their listings altogether.
Removing up to speeds from broadband advertising is arguably the smartest reaction to the B/CAP guidelines as for the majority or consumers – the other 90%, if you will – even the new, lower advertised broadband speeds represent a level of service that is simply beyond their reach. As Paul France of Cable.co.uk said, “Consumers should be aware that the providers’ advertised ‘up to’ speeds are a guideline only. Our concern is that the new speeds will be just as meaningless for most potential customers.”
Regardless of the new guidelines the best way to shop for broadband is to use a postcode checker on an Ofcom accredited broadband comparison site such as Cable.co.uk. Doing so will give you a realistic estimated line speed, and will enable you to make a more informed decision before you buy – regardless of any claims made by ISPs in their advertising.
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