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By: MarkJ - 27 January, 2011 (6:01 AM)
uk asa broadband isp advertising codeThe UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), British Code of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) have finally set out their proposals for clearer broadband ISP advertising of internet access speeds and "unlimited" usage allowances.

ASA Statement:

In 2010 the ASA asked the bodies that write the Advertising Codes (CAP and BCAP) to review broadband speed claims in advertisements as part of a wider look at advertising in the telecommunications sector.

CAP and BCAP are now consulting on their proposals for new advertising guidance on the use of “Up to” broadband speed and “Unlimited” usage claims in telecommunications advertising.

The key issues are whether consumers can actually achieve advertised speeds and “unlimited” usage of telecommunications services as claimed. The objective is to produce guidance for the industry to aid their interpretation of the Misleading Advertising sections of the CAP and BCAP Codes.

The proposals, which include a series of "options" (see below), are both now the subject of separate consultations, which will close at 5pm on Friday 25th February 2011. The ASA's objective is to ensure that advertisements for broadband services are "unlikely to mislead" the average consumer.
Advertising of Broadband Speeds (Proposed Options)

Part 1: Speed claims that are likely to be acceptable in advertisements.

* Option A - Maintaining the ASA’s present policy.

* Option B - Advertised speeds must be available to at least 10% of users.

* Option C1 - Advertised speeds may be based on theoretical maximum performance but must be accompanied by an indication of typical performance expressed as a range.

* Option C2 - Advertised speeds may be based on theoretical maximum performance but must be accompanied by an indication of typical performance based on the actual speeds available to at least 50% of users.

* Option D - Quoted speeds must be available to at least 50% of users.


Part 2: Additional information about performance that should be included in advertisements whatever the approach to speed claims.

* Qualifier 1 - Advertised speeds must be qualified with ‘up to’.

* Qualifier 2 - Advertisements must include reference to factors likely to affect the actual speed received by consumers significantly.

* Qualifier 3 - Advertisements must state that consumers can check the actual speed they are likely to receive at the point of sale.
It's noted that the new code doesn't actually propose a change to the current use of "up to" in broadband speed advertising, although the headline (advertised speed) rate that accompanies it could be adjusted, depending on the options set out above.

For example, if an ISP advertising "up to 8Mbps" could only deliver 5Mbps to 50% of users (Option D) then it would have to show "up to 5Mbps" instead. As for Part 2 (qualification), the majority of ISPs already do most of those. Some of the options could conceivably provide a big benefit to traditionally smaller ISPs, which often do more to help their customers get a good speed and don't cut as many service quality corners.
Advertising of Unlimited Usage (Proposed Options)

* Option A - Maintaining the ASA’s present policy.

* Option B - Development of the present policy to exclude FUPs that involve additional charges or suspension of service.

* Option C - Development of the present policy to exclude FUPs that involve additional charges or suspension of service and customer specific severe traffic management.

* Option D - The exclusion of services that include an FUP that restricts usage in any way.
Crucially the ASA is not proposing to force ISPs into clarifying their service restrictions (Ofcom's Net Neutrality consultation is likely to do that) and has instead strictly focused upon the point at which an ISP may or may not be allowed to make "Unlimited" usage claims. It's unclear whether or not using alternative word or phrases, such as "all you can eat", would be covered.

We suspected that many consumers will be in favour of Option D, which would prevent ISPs from using an "unlimited" claim when accompanied by an FUP that restricts usage in any way. However ISPs are more likely to favour Option's A or B, which would have the least impact on their service promotions.

Jon James, Executive Director of Broadband at Virgin Media UK, said:

"Fast, reliable broadband is something millions of people rely on and broadband companies should stop advertising speeds the vast majority of their customers will never be able to receive. We’ve had a huge amount of support for our call for all broadband providers to come clean and publish the typical real world speeds their customers receive so we’re delighted the ASA is opening up its consultation and enabling consumers to make their voices heard."

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

"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."

Once complete the final guidance will then be presented to the ASA Council who will be asked to have regard to it when considering related complaints. The guidance will apply immediately to campaigns developed after the publication of the guidance. A grace period of six months will apply to existing campaigns.
ASA Broadband ISP Advertising Consultation
http://www.cap.org.uk/CAP-and-BCAP-Consultations/Open-consultations.aspx

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