BT and Virgin Media welcome crackdown on advertising broadband speed

One of BT's BT’s first Ryan Reynolds-fronted campaigns was banned last October for 'misleading' claims around speed / BT

BT and Virgin Media have welcomed a move from regulators to introduce a dramatic series of changes around the way broadband speed claims can be advertised in the UK.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP), which sets the guidelines implemented by the ASA, have warned internet brands to ensure any statements made in ads around speed are backed by services available to at least 50% of customers at peak times. These speeds can then only be advertised as the 'average'.

It marks a significant change from the current stipulation which states that speeds marked as 'average' only have to be available to 10% of customers.

As part of the update, CAP has also recommended that broadband firms promote speed-checking facilities in ads where possible.

The renewed guidelines will come into force in May 2018 and will only apply to ads promotion residential internet services.

A Virgin Media spokesperson told The Drum that the brand was "pleased" that regulators were making sure consumers get some "long overdue clarity," adding that it had "repeatedly called for a change in these unfair and misleading advertising rules."

BT said it also welcomed the changes. "We will continue to provide personalised speed range estimates as part of our sales process, so that individual customers know clearly what is possible for their home connection," said a spokesperson.

'Misleading' consumers

Over the past few years several household names, including Virgin, BT and Sky, have been blasted by the ASA for misleading for consumers with their advertising.

BT’s first Ryan Reynolds-fronted campaign was banned last October for claiming to offer “up to” 52Mb Infinity fibre service as the “fastest speeds vs standard entry-level fibre products of major broadband providers,” while Virgin Media’s Usian Bolt ‘Broadbandits’ spot was spiked in 2016 for breaching rules around substantiation, exaggeration and comparisons with identifiable competitors.

The ASA’s overhaul also follows on from calls from some members of the UK government to tighten the screw on broadband advertisers, with one MP recently pointing out that few industries get away with providing only 10% of an advertised product.

The CAP carried out a full public consultation on the matter, which involved major ISP trade bodies as well as consumer research carried out by the ASA. The watchdog’s study showed that shoppers were likely to be misled by the advertising of speed claims that followed the current guidance.

Shahriar Coupal, CAP’s director said she believed the new standards would give audiences a better understanding of the speeds offered by different providers should they decide to switch their contact.

“We continually review our standards to make sure they reflect consumers’ experiences, the technology available and the evidence base to make sure our standards are in the right place. Following extensive research and consultation, we hope our new standards will improve customer confidence in future ads.”

The ASA is also investigating how broadband providers described fibre cables in their ads. It concluded that it was not misleading to describe such cables for only part of the connection to consumers’ homes as 'fibre broadband'. BT praised this move.

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