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Advertising Standards ASA

A consultation on how to strengthen the standards around broadband speed claims has opened.

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.

As a result, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) is 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 a 24-hour national median download speed.

The CAP has also proposed using a range of peak-time download speeds or 24-hour national download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users to inform speed claims in ads.

The consultation states that any option chosen would require an ad making broadband speed claims to advise customers to check with a provider what speed they are likely to receive.

Stakeholders and interested parties have ten weeks to air their views before the deadline on July 13th.

The call for change comes in the wake of research carried out by GfK on the ASA's behalf, which found that levels of knowledge and understanding of broadband speeds vary significantly among consumers.

The study also revealed that while speed is an important consideration for most people who are choosing between providers, many are unclear as to what the headline speed in an advertisement means for them and what speed they would be likely to achieve.

Most significantly, the ASA's survey indicated that despite this uncertainty, most consumers believe it is likely they will get a speed at or close to the headline speed claim, when in reality this will probably not be the case.

The CAP hopes the options put forward in the consultation will lead to consumers' expectations of what they are paying for being managed more effectively.

Shahriar Coupal, Director of CAP, commented: "Tougher standards are needed to prevent consumers from being misled by advertised broadband speed claims. 

"Advertising can play an early and important part in the journey to choosing a broadband provider. 

"We’re determined to ensure the information it provides, including about broadband speed, is trusted and welcomed by consumers."

Digital Minister Matt Hancock has welcomed the consultation, saying he is "delighted" that rules on how broadband speeds are advertised are to be tightened up.

He argued that basing speed claims on what is available to just ten per cent of customers is "incredibly misleading".

"Customers need clear, concise and accurate information in order to make an informed choice," Mr Hancock said.

"In the past, too many people haven't been getting the speeds they thought they signed up for, and I'm pleased this is being put right."

The Local Government Association has also welcomed the move, saying it should lead to greater transparency around broadband speeds.

Councillor Gillian Brown, Vice-Chair of the body's People and Places Board, said: "Good digital connectivity is a vital element of everyday life for residents and can help them cut household bills, shop online for cheaper goods, stay in touch with distant relatives, access their bank accounts and even run their own businesses.

"As central and local government services increasingly become 'digital by default', more people will need to have faster and more reliable speeds."

Cllr Brown said the headline speeds often promoted by broadband providers are "misleading" and do not "reflect the reality of broadband service received across the country".

She added that broadband users deserve "greater honesty and openness" about the download and upload speeds they are likely to receive depending on their location.

The LGA last year suggested that the rules be altered so broadband providers can only promote average speeds, as this would better reflect the speeds available in peak periods, when connections are often slower because of high usage.

In addition, it said upload speed should be a key measure of performance along with download speed and be clearly advertised to customers.

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