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Entanet has warned that proposed changes to the rules on broadband advertising could lead to more confusion among consumers.

Providers are currently allowed to advertise broadband speeds if they are available to ten per cent of their customers.

However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is concerned that this could potentially mislead people, with the majority of customers possibly not getting the speeds they expected.

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) is therefore seeking views on how broadband speed advertising can be improved and made more reflective of the service that consumers are likely to receive.

Among the options being considered is basing speed claims on a peak-time median download speed or using peak-time download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users.

Broadband provider Entanet has responded to the news by stressing that the reasons behind varying speeds experienced by customers are "complex and often difficult to explain" to those who are less tech-savvy.

Furthermore, it noted that since there are so many types of connection, such as copper-based ADSL and FTTP, customers could "easily be overwhelmed" by the sheer number of options and the varying speed information they are presented with.

Entanet is therefore concerned that changing the rules on broadband speed advertising could actually make comparing packages effectively more difficult rather than simpler.

As a result, the broadband provider has suggested completely avoiding mentioning speeds in advertising material and focusing instead on areas such as cost, reliability and the application and use of the service.

"Customers could then be referred to more detailed explanations and more accurate speed checkers via the providers' websites, where a specific estimated speed achievable on their line should be provided," said Darren Farnden, Head of Marketing at Entanet.

Mr Farnden went on to warn that by basing broadband advertising on speed claims, some providers might have an incentive to refuse service to customers on lower speed connections.

Indeed, he said it has already been reported that Sky Broadband has started to refuse supplying customers with sub-2Mbps speeds.

"Perhaps this was a factor in that decision," he suggested.

"This would obviously be very bad news for customers already struggling to obtain a reasonable service and would inevitably affect the government’s plans for 100 per cent coverage and the USO. 

"This would need to be policed to ensure customers with low speeds aren’t unfairly treated and their choice of provider doesn’t become restricted."

Mr Farnden also pointed out that reforming how broadband speeds are stated in advertising could work against smaller providers.

He noted that since they will have a smaller customer base and often provide to largely rural or lower-speed areas, they could appear to be slower than major national providers "when they are actually providing the same service and would in theory deliver very similar, if not identical, speeds".

"We believe this could negatively affect their ability to compete against the larger, national ISPs," he said.

Mr Farnden added that customer expectations could be better managed if people were more educated about the factors that can affect the speed they will achieve that are beyond a provider's control.

For instance, he said interference, Wi-Fi quality and internal wiring can all have an impact on connection speeds, yet these are "unforeseeable by the provider and often uncontrollable".

"Yet a customer unfamiliar with their effect on the service could easily be left frustrated," Mr Farnden commented.

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