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By: MarkJ - 29 September, 2011 (6:30 AM)
broadband speed dialuk asa broadband isp advertising codeThe UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) have today finally released a new set of rules guidlines that will clamp down on misleading broadband ISP promotions of "up to" internet access speeds and "unlimited" usage allowances.

The new guidance does not go as far as some consumers would have wanted but they do represent a significant change and should lead to greater clarity in the market. In particular it's already clear that most of today's claims and promotions by broadband providers would be in breach of the new code.
Broadband Speed Rules

* An ISP should be able to demonstrate that its advertised speeds are achievable by at least 10% of users (this is expected to be reviewed every 6 months or so).

* Speed claims must also be accompanied by a warning, which references the fact that a significant proportion of subscribers receive a speed that falls considerably short of what consumers might reasonably expect the service to offer.

* In certain instances (e.g. ADSL2+ services) a significant proportion of an ISP’s customer base might receive a maximum speed that is much lower than the advertised maximum. When this happens a provider must qualify with a sort of "typical speed" range (e.g. "X% of our customers receive speeds between ??Mbit/s and ??Mbit/s").
Ofcom's latest July 2011 research into the country's national average broadband ISP speeds (here) suggests that the change will not have much of an impact upon the new generation of superfast broadband services from BT , Virgin Media and others (Cable , FTTC , FTTH etc.). These tend to deliver a much more reliable / stable service and many should still be able to promote close to their top speeds.

The situation is radically different for ADSL (up to 8Mbps) and ADSL2+ (up to 20-24Mbps) based ISPs, which dominate most of the market and are highly susceptible to line reliability and length related performance problems. Ofcom's data suggests that ADSL2+ services can currently only deliver a UK average of 6.6Mbps, which means that many ISPs will be forced to cut their promotional speed (the ASA suggested that 'up to 18Mbps' might be more viable but some ISPs could be forced down to 12-13Mbps).
"Unlimited" Broadband Rules

* The term "unlimited" can only be used if the customer incurs no additional charge or suspension of service as a consequence of exceeding a usage threshold associated with a Fair Usage Policy (FUP), a traffic management policy or similar.

* Limitations that do affect the speed or usage of the service must also be moderate only and clearly explained in the advertisement.
In short this guidance allows ISPs to continue promoting "unlimited" alongside Traffic Management measures, which was perhaps inevitable and makes sense as most consumers tend to forget that the term refers to access rather than performance.

Still the change is likely to impact a number of ISPs. For example, O2 recently began promoting "truly unlimited downloads" again (here) but still warns that anybody who continues to make "excessive" use of the service after a warning could find that the ISP "may terminate or suspend your Services". A number of providers do something similar and all now appear to be in breach of the ASA's adjusted code.

Chairman of CAP, James Best, says:

"This new guidance directly responds to consumer concerns by setting an appropriately high bar for advertisers who want to make speed and ‘unlimited’ claims in ads. Advertising is only effective if consumers trust the messages they see and hear. This guidance will help deliver that."

Secretary of CAP, Shahriar Coupal, added:

"The industry has put a lot of work into producing this guidance which significantly tightens the position on how these products and services may be advertised. We urge marketers to get to grips with the Help Notes and to ensure their future ad campaigns are in line with it."

The guidance comes fully into effect on 1st April 2012 and all advertisers will thus be expected to adjust their services to match.
Broadcast Guidance and Help Notes
UPDATE 10:40am

We should add that the ASA/CAP expects all qualifications of speed to be "prominent, appearing in the body copy of non-broadcast marketing communications" and the equivalent for claims appearing in broadcast advertisements. No Small Print cheating.

We also added a note about "typical speeds" to the main article as this was initially overlooked. In addition, the guidance is focused on download speeds but does say, "upload speed claims should conform to the guidance where relevant". However upload performance is usually more reliable and so this shouldn't be too much of an issue.

UPDATE 1:47pm

Here's what ISPs think of it all.
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