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UK Advertising Watchdog to Study Broadband ISP Speed Claims

Friday, May 27th, 2016 (1:16 pm) - Score 725

Internet providers should brace themselves for yet more changes after the Advertising Standards Authority bowed to Government concern and announced that they would conduct consumer research, which will examine whether the broadband speed claims made by ISPs are fair.

The current guidance, which has been in place since 2012, requires that the headline speed being promoted by an ISP must be achievable by at least 10% of their customers and that all speed claims are preceded with an “up to” qualifier.

In addition, some services (e.g. those based off variable ADSL+ technology) must also include a “prominent disclaimer” making clear that speeds vary significantly dependent on the user’s distance from the exchange (or cabinet for VDSL / FTTC) and other relevant factors.

Guy Parker, ASA Chief Executive, said:

“As an evidence-based regulator, we want to make sure our approach is underpinned by the experience of real people. While complaints to the ASA about broadband speed claims have reduced considerably over recent years, we’re taking action to respond to the concerns by testing our approach through consumer research.”

The ASA states that complaints about broadband speed related advertising have fallen by 60% since they introduced the current rules, but that hasn’t been enough to placate criticism from the Government’s Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, and 50 other cross-party MPs who have called for further improvements (here).

Ed Vaizey MP said (March 2016 News):

“I hope that the Advertising Standards Authority will crack down on how providers advertise their speeds. At the moment, if only 10% of customers are receiving the advertised speed, in the eyes of the ASA that is supposed to be okay. I totally accept that the ASA does a good job – it is a great example of self-regulation – but it really needs to go further on that. In my humble opinion, at least 75% of people should be getting the speeds that the broadband providers are advertising.”

Frustration over the culture of so-called “up to” speeds is nothing new, although it is often the nature of many networks that speeds can fluctuate due to all sorts of reasons, such as traffic management policies, long copper lines, peak time network congestion and sometimes even issues like slow home WiFi or poor home wiring that ISPs cannot control.

Meanwhile most ISPs (except Virgin Media and FTTH/P, Satellite or Wireless providers) would perhaps complain that they are beholden to BTOpenreach’s national copper network and its many limitations. However Openreach are not directly held to account by related rules and so only ISPs suffer the main punishment for any linked performance woes.

The 75% suggestion by Ed Vaizey MP is arguably a bit too aggressive, but we could perhaps see the ASA adopting more of an averaged approach, maybe around 40% or 50%. On top of that we also think that all ISPs should be required to show their upload speeds instead of hiding them away in the small print, since related performance is now a lot more important than it once was. Poll time..

What % would you pick for the headline advertising of broadband ISP speeds?

  • around 50% (40%, 25 Votes)
  • 75% (35%, 22 Votes)
  • 10% (Current Rule) (15%, 9 Votes)
  • 25% (10%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 62

NOTE: The results display is cached and thus votes may not be reflected in the output right away (the cache is cleared every few hours).

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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