A year on Entanet review the ASA broadband advertising guidelines

{ Posted on May 07 2013 }

We  discussed the details of the ASA guidelines on advertising broadband and the likely impact on our partners, end users and the industry when they first came out. We came to the conclusion that although we recognised that the ASA and CAP were attempting to protect consumers and prevent them from being misled, the guidelines would cause further confusion and could potentially have a negative impact on the digital divide in the UK. We feared that these guidelines would put a lot of providers off advertising altogether and that this could lead to speed information being withdrawn completely.

ASA review a year on

ASA review a year on

Before the guidelines came into practice, the usual approach from ISPs was to advertise the speed of the broadband service based on an ‘up to’ theoretical maximum speed achievable according to the technology being used (e.g. up to 8Mbps for ADSL, up to 24Mbps for ADSL2+). However the ASA and CAP believed that this practice was misleading to end users and that further clarification was required, despite the availability of speed checkers on most providers’ websites.

Last year we predicted that many ISPs would simply stop advertising broadband speeds altogether and that appears to have happened in some cases. As a result, users must have become even more confused and unclear about connection speeds. According to Ofcom 71% of users claimed that they were unaware of their ‘actual’ broadband speed. Furthermore, 68% of broadband users don’t know their advertised speed, which was a 5% increase from before the guidelines were put in place.

Andrew Ferguson, broadband expert at thinkbroadband.com, has said: “It is becoming more apparent that the solution providers are deploying is to mention no speeds and guide people to the line checker instead. The end result may be that consumers get more confused, as it is difficult to know which technology is in use on a particular service to see whether it’s any different to what they have now.”

The whole idea behind the broadband speed guidelines was to give clarification to users regarding what sort of speed they could expect. However, many ISPs are removing references to speed, which as a result seems to be causing more confusion as different packages and technologies have become difficult to distinguish between.

ISP cherry picking prediction

We also expected that the introduction of these guidelines may have further unintentional consequences and be open to abuse. We considered that some ISPs may simply not supply consumers at the end of an exchange’s reach, where they might bring down their average performance figures, instead ‘cherry picking’ subscriber lines to yield the best results. We felt that the need to have a good figure of speed data would also drive ISPs to avoid heavy broadband users and congested areas to increase their average, leaving customers in rural areas under-served. In November 2012 The Guardian reported that broadband speeds in rural areas were ‘less than half those in the UK’s towns and cities’. They went on to say that ‘even for those with broadband, the digital divide between town and country is stark: average speeds in rural areas are 5.9Mbps, compared to 14.6Mbps in urban areas.’

Guardian: Rural broadband speeds half cities

What’s more, we argued resellers that advertise their broadband speeds accurately and in line with the guidelines but who have a significant share of their customer base located in rural areas would be forced to advertise lower speeds, making them appear inferior to their urban area-serving competitors, despite them using the same providers and technologies. As predicted, many of these resellers were put off advertising completely and this has caused even further confusion to consumers as vital speed information is missing. This was one of our key arguments against the guidelines before they were published as we felt that predominantly rural based resellers’ advertised speeds would look uncompetitive when compared to urban based resellers, despite them using the same technologies and providers and in effect causing even further confusion for end users.

Whilst we continue to applaud the ASA/CAP for their efforts to help educate consumers on this issue and clarify speed information, we still believe their current guidelines fall short of achieving this and in some cases are actually doing more harm than good. The most accurate way a consumer can predict the speed they will realistically achieve is to use a broadband speed and availability checker.

What does this mean for partners?

The new guidelines have meant that partners are now required to advertise headline speeds based upon the speeds achievable by 10% of their own customer base. To help you we provided a report facility in synergi and it’s still available.

To find out more about ASA guidelines, our ASA synergi report or to talk to your account manager or call our partner sales team on 0333 101 0000.

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