Carphone Warehouse has been told to stop running adverts claiming the broadband element of its TalkTalk service is ‘free forever’.
More than 300,000 thousand customers have signed up to the deal since it was launched in a blaze of publicity in April.
But since then the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has received 145 complaints from individuals and Carphone Warehouse’s competitors – including British Telecom, Tiscali and ntl:Telewest- that the adverts were misleading.
The free broadband came as part of TalkTalk’s T3I (Talk3 International) package, which costs £29.99 for connection, plus £20.99 per month for line rental and other fees.
But the ASA said that because broadband was an inclusive element it could not be described as ‘free’ bearing in mind those charges.
The watchdog also said TalkTalk couldn’t stand up the ‘forever’ claim even if its broadband offer was free.
It also criticised the advertiser for not making clear that its broadband deal was only available to customers already connected to a qualifying telephone exchange. Other customers have to pay an extra £10 per month.
The ASA told TalkTalk not to broadcast or print the ‘free forever’ broadband adverts again in their current form. It also told the advertiser to seek expert advice before using the term ‘free’ in future promotions.
However, Carphone Warehouse can continue to advertise ‘free broadband’ so long as it adds it on to a pre-existing package.
‘The ASA has simply asked, as a small technicality, that we attribute free broadband to an existing tariff rather than new one, which we’re very happy to do.’
However, John Petter, Chief Operating Officer at BT Retail, said: ‘Carphone said ‘free forever’ but this has confirmed that their offer isn’t free and isn’t forever. A service costing more than £250 a year, with a £29.99 connection fee, a £120 annual rural surcharge and premium rate helpdesk simply isn’t free.’