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ASA Upholds Virgin Media Broadband Speed Complaint

Posted: 02nd Jul, 2008 By: MarkJ
The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint by BT against a national press advert for Virgin Media's broadband service. The advert used downloads of music and video files to highlight the performance differences between their internal packages.

However, BT complained that the ad was misleading because they believed that Virgin's Traffic Management Policy capped customers' speeds during peak hours. During those hours customers might not be able to download songs or TV shows at the speeds and times cited in the ad:

The table showed that customers on the M package (up to 2 Mb) could download a song in 22 seconds and a TV show in under 26 minutes, customers on the L package (up to 4 Mb) could download a song in 12 seconds and a TV show in under 13 minutes, and customers on the XL package (up to 20 Mb) could download a song in 2 seconds and a TV show in under 3 minutes.

Footnote text at the bottom of the ad stated "Download speed comparisons are a guide only and assume song is 5 Mb and TV show 30 minutes / 341 Mb. Both cable and ADSL broadband are affected by user volume. Acceptable usage policy applies".

Unfortunately, at the time this complaint was being made, customers on Virgin's up to 2Mbps M package had a peak-time usage cap of 300MB (0.3GB). The 341MB (note: advert also incorrectly stated Mb [Megabits] for file size instead of MegaBytes) video file example would have broken this, thus resulting in slower than promoted performance.

The ASA has understandably upheld BT's complaint and called on Virgin Media to make its traffic management policy clearer in future adverts:

We considered that the text "Acceptable usage policy applies" did not make the peak time restrictions clear and it would not be unreasonable for readers to expect to be able to download at least one half-hour TV show on the M package, or several half-hour TV shows on the L package, during the five hours of the peak time period without breaching Virgin's traffic management system and having their speed capped. Because that was not the case we concluded that the ad was misleading.

The ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 (Truthfulness).

Virgin Media has since introduced a newer traffic management policy, which can be read HERE. The ASA's full adjudication is viewable HERE. Ofcom recently introduced a new broadband speed 'Code of Practice' (here), which is designed to encourage UK ISPs to be more honest about their advertised speeds. It will be interesting to see whether this has any real impact over the coming months.

In related news, last month saw the 'Reader's Digest Trusted Brands 2008' survey award Virgin Media its 'Most Trusted Brand' status for their UK ISP division.
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