The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has told business broadband providers to combine broadband and phone line rental prices in their advertising.
Last year, the ASA introduced new rules requiring residential broadband providers to offer all-inclusive pricing., but similar rules for business-to-business marketing were not introduced at the same time
However, the watchdog recently received complaints regarding Plusnet's advertisements for its Business Broadband package, which featured a headline price of £4.50 a month and the line rental charge listed in the small print.
While the ASA acknowledged that Plusnet offered to position the line rental fee more prominently, it concluded that the emphasis on the headline £4.50 price claim in the ads did not counter the "overriding impression" that this was the actual monthly cost.
Plusnet also defended its ads on the grounds that business customers are likely to be more competent and knowledgeable than typical consumers and therefore not be misled by the ads.
Nevertheless, the ASA decided that "individuals acting in the course of business were likely to respond to the content in a materially similar way to the average consumer, who is taken to be reasonably well-informed, observant and circumspect".
"Because business customers were likely to interpret the ads to mean that the product was available for £4.50 a month with no upfront costs, when in actuality the minimum price was £15 a month including line rental for all customers, with an additional £4.99 to pay in the first month for most customers, we concluded that the ads were misleading," the body said.
The ASA has therefore banned the advertisements and told Plusnet to merge the monthly cost and line rental charges into one all-inclusive price in future marketing content.
This ruling will also impact on other business broadband providers, who have been given six months or until May 15th next year to make all upfront costs clear to customers in their ads.