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UPD ASA Slap TalkTalk Broadband Speed Checker over Misleading Estimates

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012 (7:29 am) - Score 700

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint by one of TalkTalk’s UK customers against a broadband speed checking facility on the ISPs website, which was found to deliver a “misleading” estimates of expected performance because it didn’t go far enough to make clear that the speed consumers received was “likely to be lower than the estimated” range.

TalkTalk’s customer is understood to have entered his postcode into the speed checking facility on 10th December 2011, which returned the following result: “Your estimated speed 3.8 Meg Your estimated speed range is between 2.1 and 5.3meg..“. But the customer felt that this was “misleading” because he had previously been informed that the maximum speed available to him was less than 2.1Mbit/s.

Regular readers will know that estimating line speed isn’t an exact science and results often vary, sometimes being better than expected and others worse; though ISP estimates do have a habit of being overly optimistic. Crucially the ASA appears to have found against TalkTalk’s checker because the ISP failed to make completely clear why speeds vary and that consumers would thus “understand the information provided by the speed checker to be indicative of their likely actual throughput speeds.”

ASA Ruling vs TalkTalk (A11-181384)

In the context of the understanding we considered was likely to be taken from the ad, we expected to see evidence to demonstrate that the speed checker accurately reflected the throughput speeds consumers received in the majority of cases. We noted TalkTalk had submitted data they believed demonstrated the accuracy of the speed checker. We also noted, however, that the data did not include information about the speeds that were estimated for those consumers in order to allow a comparison that demonstrated that the speed checker accurately reflected the throughput speeds consumers received.

We noted that some speed issues experienced by consumers could relate to their own particular circumstances and, to that end, the complainant’s issue might be a customer service one, rather than an indication of the general reliability of the line checker. However, because we had not seen directly relevant evidence to support the impression that was likely to be taken from the ad – that the speed checker was indicative of the likely actual throughput speeds consumers would achieve in the majority of cases – we concluded that the ad breached the Code.

The ASA has since warned TalkTalk that their speed checker must not appear again in its current form and told them to improve the information provided. In addition the watchdog also told TalkTalk to ensure “they were in a position to provide evidence to substantiate the impression that was likely to be taken from their future advertising claims“.

A TalkTalk Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

We are grateful for the guidance provided by the Advertising Standards Authority. The prominence of the speed checker on our website demonstrates our commitment to being completely transparent with our customers about the speeds they can achieve.”

The ruling could have repercussions for other ISPs, some of which only provide the most basic of information about why line speeds vary and often also return similarly optimistic results. Good news for consumers then, assuming broadband providers take notice. Meanwhile TalkTalk’s has since improved the information that it provides and reinstated the checker.

ASA’s TalkTalk Complaint (A11-181384)
http://www.asa.org.uk/ASA-action/Adjudications/2012/5/TalkTalk-Telecom-Ltd/SHP_ADJ_181384.aspx

UPDATE 12:31pm

Added a comment from TalkTalk above.

Leave a Comment
1 Response
  1. Avatar DTMark says:

    Virgin were at it as well with the National service.

    When we had ADSL most “checkers” read the wholesale database. Bear in mind it was BT wholesale based with profiling, so the database – centrally held – was, and remains, correct. Actual max IP profile = 1750kbps. No LLU, all 20CN.

    Anyone querying that database is going to get the same data (seems a reasonable presumtion).

    Most optimistically returned the sync rate of 2Mbps as the likely speed.

    Some (e.g. AAISP) gave a figure of 1Mbps (erring on the downside).

    Virgin National – uniquely – returned 3.5Mbps for the same *phone number* every time – it’s as if the formula were “take the sync rate and multiply by 1.5” and of course the biggest irony is that while Virgin Cable is over-provisioned (e.g. 30Mbps is provisioned as 33Mbps IIRC) by contrast Virgin National is not.. shall we say.. a top rated ADSL ISP.

    Anyone care to try and see if it’s still doing that? (I can’t as I have no idea what the circuit number is for our line now and the old number is probably reassigned elsewhere now)

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