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UK Broadband ISPs Risk Legal Sanctions for Running Misleading Adverts

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 (9:44 am) - Score 581
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Major broadband ISPs like Virgin Media, BT, Sky Broadband and TalkTalk, which often find themselves in hot water with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for “misleading” service promotions, could risk incurring legal sanctions under a new agreement with Trading Standards.

Previously the ASA’s legal backstop powers resided with the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) but, following changes to the law, this has now switched to Trading Standards. The advertising watchdog’s CEO, Guy Parker, has thus wasted no time in warning that, “an advertiser who doesn’t play by the rules will face the consequences.”

ASA Statement

Any advertiser that persists in breaking the rules through misleading, aggressive or otherwise unfair non-broadcast advertising can face referral. Trading Standards can consider taking action against advertisers under consumer and business protection laws.

We’ve agreed new case handling principles [link] and, importantly, the ASA remains responsible for regulating advertising – allowing Trading Standards to focus its resources on other consumer issues.

The talk is tough but what about action? Last year Virgin Media’s various broadband and or phone promotions suffered an almost endless stream of advertising bans, at one point even earning itself a comical feature on the BBC’s Watchdog TV show (here), but it never receive more than a metaphorical slap on the wrists. In fact most of the major ISPs have found themselves in front of the ASA on multiple occasions.

The ASA quite understandably prefers to settle such disputes without resorting to tougher measures and in fairness many companies do make honest mistakes in their advertising, which can often be tricky to adjudicate; especially if it comes down to a complex technicality that is perhaps arguably more likely to occur in the telecoms market (example using Virgin’s TMP policy).

On the other hand it’s sometimes important to draw a line in the sand so that advertisers don’t feel as if they can game the system. But at present it remains unclear what level of activity would be enough to trigger the ASA into using the legal backstop powers.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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