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Entanet UK Criticises ASA Plan to Clarify Broadband ISP Speed and Usage Claims

Posted: 10th Feb, 2011 By: MarkJ
isp entanet broadband ukuk asa broadband isp advertising codeEntanet, a UK based communications and networking operator, has today criticised the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and its recent efforts towards forcing ISPs into clarifying their adverts for broadband speeds and "unlimited" usage allowances.

The ASA recently made a number of new proposals (full details), which included the option of forcing broadband ISPs to only show an advertised (headline) speed that at least 50% of users could achieve. It also suggested preventing ISPs from using an "unlimited" usage claim if the associated Fair Usage Policy (FUP) hid too many restrictions.

Entanet’s Head of Marketing, Darren Farnden, said (blog):

"We agree that it’s time the potentially confusing practice of advertising based on headline speeds and claims of ‘unlimited’ services was reviewed. Unfortunately we don’t think the current options to tackle speed are workable and should be replaced by an option to support headline speeds with statistics indicating actual achievable speeds."

Entanet believes that the proposed system would penalise smaller rural focused ISPs because their customers live further away from the local telephone exchange, which hampers speed. It should be said that such ISPs are also extremely niche and the ASA is perhaps more concerned with the big boys that affect over 95% of consumers. In many situations it might even benefit higher quality smaller ISPs.

The operator goes on to suggest that the ASA's solution could perhaps encourage some smaller ISPs to turn customers away for fear that those on slower links would negatively impact their advertised rates. This seems somewhat improbable and impractical, especially in an aggressively competitive market, but it's an interesting point of view.

Entanet also raises some technical and cost concerns, such as with regards to precisely how and when the related monitoring and speed calculations would be done and who would independently check the data to make sure that it was accurate (i.e. verify that the ISP isn't fibbing). However they do have an alternative idea.

Farnden explained:

"In support of the headline speed the ISP could state the percentage of users that achieve, for example, 90% of their sync speed as throughput. This approach would highlight those ISPs that force high levels of contention on their broadband suppliers. This would demonstrate that the pile them high sell them cheap approach taken by some ISPs leads to a poor customer experience."

Entanet admits that this approach isn't perfect and could still lead to concerns about data integrity. It should also be pointed out that Entanet has not signed up to either of Ofcom's v1 (2008) or v2 (2010) Voluntary Codes of Practice on Broadband Speeds, largely due to some of the same concerns as mentioned above.

As for the issue of "unlimited" advertising, Entanet supports the ASA's Option D proposal, which would completely prevent ISPs from using "unlimited" promotions if the associated FUP restricted usage in any way. They also want to see providers focusing more on promoting services based on quality, reliability and value-added extras

Farnden concluded:

"The majority of ISPs provide very similar services when compared solely on speed, for example. For this reason we encourage our reseller partners, especially those targeting business customers, to focus on other aspects of the service that differentiates them from the competition. For example high quality, 24/7 UK based technical support from experienced, knowledgeable and un-scripted operatives."

Sadly many ISPs already claim to have high quality and reliable services, yet consumers can still find the opposite. The ASA's consultation will come to a close on 25th February 2011 and we should learn later what the outcome has been, including any new proposals. Like it or not, things are about to change and ISPs will need to adapt.
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