Broadband advertising 'misleading', says VirginVirgin Media says broadband ads confuse consumers

02 September 2010

Broadband ads can be misleading

Broadband speed ads can be misleading

Broadband advertising is regarded as 'misleading' by nine out of ten people, according to new research commissioned by cable broadband provider Virgin Media. 

Virgin Media's findings come in the wake of recent broadband speed research by broadband watchdog Ofcom, which demonstrated that advertised 'up to' broadband speeds often bear little resemblance to the speeds people experience in practice. 

Which? expert Ceri Stanaway says: 'We have been concerned about confusing broadband speed advertising and marketing since 2007, when Which? first identified the huge discrepancy between actual and advertised speeds. 

'The research published today clearly shows that consumers are fed up with the misleading advertising of 'up to' broadband speeds, and demonstrates that regulators and industry have a long way to go to ensure broadband speeds are advertised in a transparent and meaningful way.' 

Find out what you can do to increase slow broadband speeds in the Which? broadband speed guide

Low consumer trust in advertised broadband speeds

The research into consumer attitudes to broadband advertising, carried out by research agency ICM among 1,000 people, focuses primarily on broadband speed claims. The research, commissioned by broadband giant Virgin Media, found that:

  • Only 9% of people believe advertised headline broadband speeds tend to be accurate 
  • Only 2% of people believe the approach of advertising 'up to' speeds is the clearest way to advertise broadband speeds 
  • 93% of people believe ISPs should only advertise the typical speed received by the majority of customers 
  • 54% of people are unsurprised when shown the difference between advertised and actual speeds 
  • 41% of people are willing to pay more if they can be sure of a faster broadband connection

Broadband speed second only to price

The research also asked people for what factors they regarded as important when choosing a home broadband provider. While price came out as people's most important consideration, with 98% agreeing that price was important, broadband speed came a close second with 96% stating that speed was an important factor. 

If price and speed matter to you, find out which broadband providers Which? members rated highly for both value for money and connection speeds in the Which? broadband review

Broadband speed advertising must change

The vast majority (93%) of respondents to Virgin Media's survey agree that advertising rules should be changed to stop ISPs making speed claims that don't match the typical 'real world' experience of most broadband customers. 

Which? strongly supports the principle that broadband advertising should reflect speeds that a majority of people can achieve in practice. Which? policy advisor Rob Reid says: 'The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) called on the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) to conduct a review of the advertising of broadband speeds earlier this summer, the need for which is clearly highlighted by Ofcom's speed test research. 

'Which? is calling on CAP and BCAP to ensure that their review addresses the misleading use of 'up to' speeds and investigate ways to ensure that advertised speeds are typical of the speeds that consumers can expect to receive.

'It is not only important that the CAP and BCAP codes are adjusted to address the misleading advertising of broadband speeds, but also that the ASA as the regulatory body is seen to monitor and enforce those codes.'

If you're unhappy with your broadband speed, find out how to complain with our guide.

Virgin promises greater clarity - but only on cable

Virgin Media plans to publish the typical average speeds its customers receive each month across its 10Mb, 20Mb and 50Mb cable broadband services as part of a 'speed honesty' promise. 

This is certainly a step in the right direction, although Virgin Media's on fairly solid ground doing this with its cable services. Ofcom's speed test results found that, on average, Virgin Media's cable broadband services delivered average download speeds around twice as fast as ADSL packages (via copper phone lines) with the same or similar headline speeds. 

Virgin Media has as yet made no promises of 'speed honesty' for its own ADSL services, which deliver maximum 'up to' speeds of 20Mbps.

Find out more about Ofcom's broadband speed research 

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