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UPD UK Advertising Authority to Rule on ISP Ads for Unlimited Broadband and Speed

Posted: 24th Jan, 2011 By: MarkJ
uk asaThe UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has confirmed that the conclusion to its review into how internet services are marketed, specifically those offered by broadband ISPs and mobile operators, will be published this week. However the ASA will not take any action, if needed, until after an additional one or two month long industry consultation has been completed.

The review itself was opened last June 2010 (here) and sought to take a comprehensive look at the use and abuse of misleading broadband speeds and "unlimited" advertising claims. The ASA itself does not have the power to make policy and as a result its review was conducted alongside the British Code of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which can set policy.

ISP's frequently attach the "unlimited" claim to packages that still feature restrictive measures, which often only show up inside the small print of a Fair Usage Policy (FUP); many of which can be very vague. We don't need to explain the issues surrounding advertised (headline) broadband service speeds as everybody knows how misleading they can be, though Ofcom has made some big strides towards improving the situation (here).

The ASA's Communications and Policy Manager, Lynsay Taffe, said last year:

"We’ve looked at a number of complaints about individual ads in the telecoms sector regarding access speeds and usage limits and found that applying a single policy to how telecoms providers advertise can pose significant challenges.

It’s important that we look at this on a broader policy level with service providers, other regulators and consumer groups, rather than relying on individual ASA rulings that focus on a particular service on one platform."

Most reports predict that the days of advertising "up to" broadband speeds could be numbered and it'll be interesting to see what the final review proposes. It's also worth remembering that the ASA's remit is being extended to cover marketing on websites from 1st March 2011, which will put even more pressure on ISPs to watch what they say.

It's perhaps telling that many ISPs, since the review started, have abandoned or softened their old terminology and moved to offer clearer wording. Mobile operators have been quite aggressive with this, although fixed line broadband services from O2 and others have also changed. However some ISPs continue to fail the honesty test.

Nick Thompson, Director of Consumer Services at KC ( Karoo ), said:

"We welcome the Advertising Standards Authority’s investigation into the promotion of misleading “up to” speeds and are delighted that steps are being taken to champion consumer interests and improve transparency in broadband advertising. Headline-grabbing speeds are rarely experienced and they have been allowed to mislead consumers for too long, leaving people both frustrated and with unrealistic expectations of the service they will actually receive.

KC has championed greater transparency in the broadband market for some time now, having developed a “speed map” for our network that shows the typical broadband speeds customers are receiving. We hope other ISPs will follow our lead and support the ASA’s investigation so that consumers can make more informed decisions when it comes to broadband."

Ofcom is also expected to update their broadband speed report next month, which will reveal that advertised rates continue to be wildly out of step with most real-world performance. In fairness ISP's aren't always to blame, with many issues stemming from poor home wiring or your distance from the local telephone exchange.

The regulators (Ofcom) Net Neutrality consultation proposals, which have yet to be published, may also hinge on what the ASA says this week. Traffic Management and Fair Usage Policies (FUP) are very much a part of that too.

UPDATE 2:39pm

Added a comment from UK ISP KC.
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