The ASA needs to toughen its broadband advertising guidelines according to a Westminster debate chaired by Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, on Tuesday (8 March).
Under current laws, the Advertising Standards Authority polices broadband advertising and enforces rules around the speeds that can be advertised. Conversely internet service providers (ISPs) need only provide advertised speeds to 10% of their customers as part of the widely utilised caveat, ‘up to’.
During the debate it was broached that few industries get away with providing only 10% of an advertised product, a phenomena Warman likened to the sale of fruit: “If you were to go to a supermarket and buy a bunch of organic grapes, go to the checkout and pay for those grapes, if you found out afterwards that you only got a tenth of the grapes you bought and they weren’t actually organic, you may be a little grumpy.”
He said: “We need new guidelines from the ASA, and the government is keen on this too. We should bear in mind someone at some point thought that 10% was a perfectly decent guideline. It is not enough," adding that the practices “were a fraud on the consumer; the current practices are surely not fair, reasonable or understandable to them”.
Two requests were made of the ASA, to ensure that at least half of consumers receive the advertised speeds and that a further 20% were at least capable of reaching those heights, and that services sold as fibre should be delivered exclusively through fibre – as the legacy copper installations do not afford high speeds.
Warman concluded: “We shouldn’t pretend that the industry has not tried to make progress but we should recognise the ASA guidelines do not compel them to do it.”
Furthermore, consumers and businesses who are not receiving anything close to the advertised speeds should be able to exit their contracts.
In response, Kerris Bright, chief marketing officer at Virgin Media, said: "Outdated rules allowing broadband providers to advertise a speed only available to 10% of customers need to change. The advertised speed should be available to the majority of consumers – plain and simple.
"Government has been clear about the need for a majority rule and yesterday MPs examined the issue in Parliament – the regulator should act now.”
The ASA has previously warned providers to clean up their act. In 2016, it enforced new rules that tasked providers with including the mandatory line rental in the advertising of their costs, a move affecting leading ISPs like Virgin Media, EE, BT, TalkTalk, Sky, Plusnet and Three.