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UK ISPs React to Average Broadband Speeds in Advertising Requirement

Friday, November 24th, 2017 (10:08 am) - Score 2,251

Yesterday the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) revealed new guidance (here), which from 23rd May 2018 will require all broadband ISPs to advertise “average” speeds (a median measured at peak time) for their packages. Today we’ve published some thoughts from a cross section of providers.

Broadly speaking the industry appears to support the change, although there were one or two dissenting voices that highlighted a few of the potential problems with using an average for such connectivity. However the biggest challenge will be in ensuring that all ISPs adopt the new guidance.

Sadly there are still quite a few smaller providers, such as Satellite ISPs, that even today seem to ignore the existing 10% rule and they’ll probably do the same with average speeds too. The ASA’s guidance appears to be technology neutral and so such providers should really be adopting the same measure.

A Virgin Media Spokesperson said:

Virgin Media is pleased the ASA are making sure consumers get some long overdue clarity. That’s why we have repeatedly called for a change in these unfair and misleading advertising rules. At last, the majority of customers will now know what speeds they can realistically expect from their broadband provider, not just a small minority.”

Adrian Kennard, MD of AAISP, said:

“We are concerned that this change fails to address the fundamental issue that advertising does not convey clearly the different types of technology available – which is mostly what matters. A better approach would be industry standard terms for each of the (very few) key technologies rather than speed headlines.

When all VDSL/FTTC was advertised as “up to 80M”, customers could see that two ISPs offering VDSL packages advertised as “up to 80M” were basically the same speed and so compare on other factors. i.e. they may only get 50M where they live but that is true for either of those ISPs offering “up to 80M” VDSL/FTTC.

Now we will potentially see a wide range of speeds based on clever marketing. E.g. an ISP that sells 40/10, 55/15, and 80/20 VDSL can advertise the 80/20 based on the median of those customers 55 to 80M (i.e. ignoring those that cannot get 55M because they will be on the 55/15 package). Other ISPs that maybe don’t offer the 55/15 will have to have median of lines 40 to 80M, so lower.

A customer might assume one ISP is way better than the other even though the sync speed will be the same regardless as the same VDSL on the same line to the same modem in the same cabinet. So this causes more customer confusion rather than adding clarity.

It also guarantees that 50% of customers will be disappointed still, and 50% will be puzzled.”

A TalkTalk Spokesperson said:

“We support the ASA efforts to simplify broadband advertising. Whilst average speeds are a useful guide, what customers really want is a guaranteed speed specific to their home. We already provide that at the point of sale, meaning customers can be certain about the speeds they will receive before they buy the product.”

Martin Pitt, MD of Aquiss, said:

“We are still in the process of absorbing the new requirements and the continued chopping and changing that the ASA seems to deploy on the industry, following their previous failed attempts to dumb the industry down. With respect to the ASA, the general public are not stupid, though I have to question the same of the ASA.

Naturally we will implement the required changes in the coming months, however for the first time, as a business, we need to consider if introducing a lower threshold, acceptance level, will allow us to maintain a competitive market position alongside other providers who already have such thresholds. The selling of ADSL services hardly looks tempting at all, given the lower “averages” that are already seen within this technology portfolio.”

Simon Davies, Director of iDNET, said:

“This together with the introduction of one-month contracts for fibre broadband (that is coming from 15th January) is excellent news for consumers as they will be able to simply and quickly move to a provider who does not massively over-subscribe their network, which is the major cause of peak-time slowdowns.”

A Spokesperson for Vodafone said:

“We welcome the decision from the ASA and have been actively involved in the consultation to ensure better clarity for consumers around broadband speeds. We’ll be working to meet the deadline accordingly.”

Andrew Glover, ISPA UK Chair, said:

ISPA supports today’s change to rules governing the advertising of broadband speeds as an important way of providing consumers with clear and accurate information. The new rules, alongside existing steps of providing speed information at point of sale, the ability to exit a contract and switching, mean consumers have a number of tools at their disposal to make an informed choice about which ISP or broadband service is right for them.”

Sadly BT has not responded to our hails and Sky Broadband weren’t able to provide a comment before we published (they have promised one), while BT sibling Plusnet responded.. but only to confirm that they were declining to comment.

In our view one mistake that the ASA made was to overlook upload speeds, which are a key component of any broadband package and can vary significantly between different connections and product tiers (e.g. a 40Mbps capable FTTC line may adopt either a 2Mbps or 10Mbps profile). The watchdog said they would consider uploads on a “case-by-case basis,” which is akin to sweeping them under the carpet.

All ISPs should be required to show their upload speeds in the package details because it is a material part of the service. Half the time you cannot even find the speed mentioned in the small print and some providers don’t show it during the order process either. However, on a positive note, smaller ISPs are much more transparent about their upload performance than bigger ones.

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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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21 Responses
  1. Cecil Ward says:

    What a joke. Who are the OFCOM ASA paper-shufflers working for? (Clue: promoting their own continued unnecessary existence.) Only RevK makes any kind of sense.

    1. wireless pacman says:

      He generally does.

      What I don’t understand is how this so-called average is meant to be calculated in a real world situation. After all, the basic sync speed is only one small part (and only really relevant to dsl). How to do real life speed tests from a representative sample of customers whilst excluding impact of customer “internal” issues?

    2. Steve Jones says:

      Normally the way the ASA works when dealing with complaints about advertising (and somebody is bound to complain, if just to try out the system) is that they require the advertiser to justify their claims. For example, when BT claimed the HH5 to have the best WiFi performance of any of the mass-market ISP modem/routers, they had to produce reams of technical evidence on how they’d ascertained that.

      In the case of throughput, then I would suggest that the ISPs will be required to present their evidence. As far as I can see directive does not define the conditions of the tests and the parameters beyond the requirement to specify the median download throughput and the hours it applies. It is, of course, fraught with practical problems – is it single or multi-threaded, is it to specific sites, does an ISP-run speed-test site count as evidence? Can the ISP specify caveats, such as not using WiFi, or its only valid from the isolated test socket (in the case of xDSL).

      So, what I expect, is that the ASA will just throw it back to the ISP to prove their claim.

    3. CarlT says:

      They’ll probably use SamKnows data.

      VM’s numbers are based on their own SamKnows panel, Ofcom have another on their network alongside panels on all the larger providers’ networks.

      Any operator that provides a number that seems out of kilter will I’m sure be asked to provide data.

      The data is easy enough to get a hold of. At least two of the larger providers are going to have SamKnows testing functionality built into the CPE.

  2. ChrisP says:

    I’m with AAISP on this.

    2018 will see even more confusing B.B. advertising and slinging matches between VM and the DSL lot (ok mainly just BT)

    Some customers will find that either their ADSL service just got really expensive or their vdsl product is now split in 2 with the faster product costing more but customers on faster lines receiving a discount.

    The only losers will be consumers swamped with ASA blessed nonsense.

    I have not heard of anyone say they where confused or bothered by the “Up to” statement.
    People will be complaining about why they only get 60mbs when Fred next door gets 70, when the reality is that it all depends on the individual area, circumstances, isp, and sites they choose to go to.

    A speed test just measures the speed to the speed test system, not the internet at large or as a whole.

    1. James Blessing says:

      “I have not heard of anyone say they where confused or bothered by the “Up to” statement.”

      The problem is that people saw the term ‘up to’ and then ignored it, complaints were that they were “paying for 40mbps but only getting 28mbps” (even though that’s clearly well within the definition of ‘up to’) they then complained to their local MP about this disgraceful state of affairs and the most clueless (and usually loudest) ones then complain to the world in general that the ASA should do something (with very little idea about what this mythical something was)

      This argument was lost when the ASA came up with the original ‘up to’ * (and don’t get me started on ‘Fibre’)

  3. GNewton says:

    ASA has become a laughing stock. It is unable to grasp the meaning of “fibre broadband”, it’s new average broadband speed rule won’t solve the issue of confusing adverts, and it is still ignoring the importance of upload speeds. It boils down to the fact that the industry, with ASA’s blessings, is hiding important technical details to the consumer.

    1. AndyH says:

      “It boils down to the fact that the industry, with ASA’s blessings, is hiding important technical details to the consumer.”

      The ASA’s research found that the majority of users were not technically savvy enough to understand the different types of technology available for delivering broadband. What matters to consumers is that they buy the right product that meets their needs.

      If you were suddenly to change the terminology of every single type of broadband, you would create widespread confusion which is not in the interest of consumers.

      “won’t solve the issue of confusing adverts”

      If adverts were so confusing, why are the ASA and OFCOM not inundated with complaints from consumers that they are confused or misled with broadband adverts?

    2. GNewton says:

      @andyH: Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. This concept has been used by the ASA and the bigger ISPs. ASA’s decision on allowing false “fibre broadband” advertising is morally despicable. Just take a look at VMs fibre advert showing a piece of coax copper and describing it as fibre. ASA is not fit for purpose.

    3. AndyH says:

      “Just take a look at VMs fibre advert showing a piece of coax copper and describing it as fibre. ”

      Are they still using this advert? Do you not think that if people were buying their service based on this advert and expecting a fibre cable to be installed, then there would be a lot of complaints when no fibre cable was installed?

      “ASA’s decision on allowing false “fibre broadband” advertising is morally despicable.”

      What even is fibre broadband? Hyperoptic are quite happy to call their service ‘fibre broadband’ when it’s a mix of fibre + copper ethernet cabling.

    4. GNewton says:

      @AndyH: “What even is fibre broadband?”

      FTTP / FTTH

      See e.g. France where this is clearly defined, no confusion amongst users like you:


  4. MikeW says:

    I’m with RevK on this too.

    By definition, that also means the ISPA chair is living in cloud cuckoo land. This isn’t clear and accurate information. As RevK says, it is disappointing for 50% and puzzling for the other 50%. And it has less association with the technology backing the offer.

  5. eM says:

    Virgin Media are pleased? I expect that with their peak time speeds, their adverts will need to be changed from 100 Meg, 200 Meg and 300 Meg packages to 7 Meg, 7 Meg and 7 Meg, respectively 😛

    1. Elle says:

      Virgin should be pleased.

      VIVID 50 = 51.98 Mbps to 53.52 Mbps

      VIVID 100 = 98.56 Mbps to 104.01 Mbps

      VIVID 200 = 187.92 Mbps to 202.06 Mbps

      VIVID 200 Gamer = 191.16 Mbps to 199.09 Mbps

      VIVID 300 = 290.23 Mbps to 318.68 Mbps


    2. Ultraspeedy says:

      “Virgin Media are pleased? I expect that with their peak time speeds, their adverts will need to be changed from 100 Meg, 200 Meg and 300 Meg packages to 7 Meg, 7 Meg and 7 Meg, respectively”

      Dunno where you are getting your data, samknows, Ofcom and thinkbroadband numbers show Virgin speeds are quite happily faster than xDSL

  6. Billy says:

    Only 20 quid a month, unlimited porn + eBay

  7. dragoneast says:

    My last choice was between IDNet and AAISP. Judging by the complete nonsense spouted by Davies who always sounds like a talking advertisement i.e. completely meaningless, I shouldn’t have succumbed to his marketing-speak to stay, and come next year will change to Rev K’s outfit who do at least speak intelligible sense. Yes I have a line performing as well as it can and good enough for me, but I prefer to donate my money to a worthwhile cause when I can.

  8. Matt says:

    Well I think it’s fair to say that ADSL broadband will dead soon.

    Actually I can see ISP’s opting not to advertise ADSL services, yet only offering them under ‘some’ circumstances.

    An area like mine will see a major decline in competition (not that it has much now) where Virgin Media will get all the business because Openreach’s failure for investment has left this ‘one and only’ area of Birmingham without any fibre based upgrades and the vast majority of population in sub 5mb speeds, with a high percentage of my estate struggling to get above 3.5mbps…. and my location (not the furthest from exchange) struggling for 2mbps.

    Now TV Broadband has always and still does refuse to offer service due to the low speed expectations, Sky have offered me service in the past though they claimed I would get 5-9mbps which they quickly noticed wasn’t the case and happily killed the service.

    TalkTalk offers a maximum sync of 1.9mbps upon sale and BT around 0.5mb more.

    Plusnet managed to get me an Openreach engineer who spent a couple of hours testing pairs to find the best (most stable) pair to which I then had Plusnet drop SNR to 3.3db achieving a max of 2.7mb sync and a little bit of tinkering with telnet commands on a broadcom chipped modem got my SNR down to 2.1db achieving me around 3.0mbps sync.

    However during the time I had the Plusnet connection, BT’s wholesale checker was updated from a range of 3 – 9.5mbps to 0.5 – 3.5mb, and that most recently was changed to just saying up to 3.5mb.

    So I’m now lead top assume that in the future ADSL services on lines like mine (which is currently disconnected BTW) would only be offer by ‘proffessional’ ISPs such as Andrews & Arnold.

    1. CarlT says:

      Wishful thinking I suspect. Sky and TalkTalk will cling on with every last breath to their ADSL kit. When they lose that MPF LLU as it stands right now is gone. All copper will go via Openreach-run DSLAMs.

    2. Bill says:

      I doubt ADSL will die, until an adequate replacement is found. ADSL tends to be much more stable than FTTC, at least from my experience, having monitored many connections over the years. Obviously the speeds tend to be lower.

      It is a fact that when equipment complexity increases in order to force more bits down not-for-purpose copper, the potential for outages and signal disruption goes up. Cue Gfast….

    3. Matt says:

      Hey @CartT, I suspect your right about TalkTalk and Sky however with both of them having kit in my area only TalkTalk will supply my postcode.

      @Bill, I also doubt ADSL will die but I suspect it will become rare, those able to order faster services will be excluded from the service or atleast be provisioned on a VDSL based service, but as has become the case in my area (-2mbps urban area) Sky/Now TV won’t supply broadband due to slow estimates and Vodafone has also removed its LLU kit from the exchange.

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