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Broadband providers given ‘green light’ to mislead

Telecoms advertising review falls short

CAP and BCAP telecoms advertising review concluded

CAP and BCAP announce conclusion of review into telecoms advertising today

New guidance has been published today on the use of ‘unlimited’ claims and the way broadband speed claims can be made in telecommunications advertising.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) have concluded their review of telecommunications marketing. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) asked them to look at the sector following complaints about whether consumers could achieve the speeds and usage being claimed by providers. 

Which? has long been concerned about the advertising of ‘unlimited’ claims and ‘up to’ speeds and responded to both consultations

Which? set out proposals for the use of both terms in telecoms advertising, and believes the conclusions of CAP and BCAP released today, still don’t go far enough to protect consumers from misleading claims. 

Broadband ads should not mislead consumers, says Which?

Responding to the new guidelines published by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) for the marketing of broadband products, Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, says:

‘Broadband providers have just been given the green light to mislead consumers. The rules say that providers don’t have to state what range of speeds most of their customers experience. That means advertising campaigns can now be based on the experience of a privileged few. If just one in 10 customers get access to the top speeds advertised, that’s within the guidelines.

‘The clamp down on ‘unlimited’ claims also hasn’t gone far enough. ‘Unlimited’ should mean unlimited at your normal broadband speed*, but Internet Service Providers will be allowed to slow down a supposedly ‘unlimited’ connection once a customer goes over a certain threshold.

‘Ofcom should step in where the advertising regulators have failed, and make sure consumers can’t be misled about the broadband service they’re paying for.’

New advertising guidance 

CAP and BCAP have published two Help Notes today as guidance for telecoms providers. This will not officially come into effect until 1 April 2012, although CAP does say advertiser should produce any new campaigns in line with the guidance.

On the use of speed claims in broadband advertising it says:

  • If a maximum speed claim is made, advertisers should be able to demonstrate that the speed is achievable for at least 10% of customers.
  • Advertisers should also include in the ad appropriate, additional information to accompany a maximum speed claim to ensure the average consumer is not misled.  Where relevant, this includes information that bears out that a significant proportion of subscribers receive a speed that falls considerably short of what consumers might reasonably expect the service to offer.

On the use of ‘unlimited’ claims in telecoms advertising it says the term can only be used if:

  • The user 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; and
  • Limitations that do affect the speed or usage of the service are moderate only and are clearly explained in the advertisement.

Ofcom’s response to the new advertising guidance

An Ofcom spokesperson told Which?: 

‘Ofcom notes the Committee of Advertising Practice’s (CAP) new guidance on broadband speeds advertising. It contains a number of recommendations which will reduce the potential for consumers to be misled and we welcome these. However we are disappointed that it appears not to be possible to establish a single, clear and consistent “Typical Speed Range”. Our view is that this is the best way to ensure that consumers are able to compare the wide range of packages that are available.

‘We will be watching closely to see how broadband providers implement the CAP guidance, as well as how the ASA use it to tackle potentially misleading adverts, so that consumers get the right information before they buy.’

More on this…


Notes to editors

Which? wants:

  • The average speed range experienced by most customers should be clearly stated alongside the top speeds available to the lucky few, otherwise consumers simply can’t make an informed choice.
  • ‘Unlimited’ should mean unlimited. 

*Some traffic management is inevitable at busy times and as such is acceptable on unlimited deals, but it is misleading to market a deal as unlimited if broadband speeds will be reduced if the customer exceeds a usage limit.

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