Choosing Suppliers

False advertising prompts ASA to force broadband firms to act with honesty and integrity

4 min read

31 October 2016

Deputy Editor, Real Business

The Advertising Standards Authority has announced rules forcing broadband firms to quit false advertising.

In 2016, three of BT’s TV adverts – claiming its Infinity fibre broadband was more responsive than Virgin Media and had faster download speeds than Sky – were banned from the screen. This had been ordained by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), claiming such false advertising had to stop.

At the time, ASA said: “We told BT not to repeat the claims unless it held documentary evidence to substantiate them and made available sufficient information about its methodology and data for verification.”

It has since cracked its whip on the broadband industry and is now eradicating what it deems as false advertising by forcing providers to more transparent effective immediately. This decision followed on from joint findings with Ofcom – the two companies found 81 per cent of Brits who were shown a broadband advert were unable to calculate the total contract cost.

The ASA ruling forces providers to include line rental in the advertised price, rather than list it as a separate cost, which has been the case up until now. It’s a move ASA’s CEO, Guy Parker, is convinced will make a “positive difference in how people understand and engage with ads for broadband services”.

While this is progress to a degree, Cable.co.uk’s Dan Howdle suggested providers still had enough wiggle room to splinter off costs. This would entail, for example, internet security and whether you’re able to watch TV in high definition.

“It’s the nature of the industry,” he said. “Providers will always want to make things appear cheaper than they actually are. But the real elephant in the room here is that, even if we do reach a stage where the prices advertised match those customers actually pay in all cases, broadband remains the only essential utility we buy without knowing exactly what we’re paying for.

“No one pays a flat tariff for a mystery quantity of gas or an unknown number of kilowatt hours, and yet this is exactly the situation with broadband: Advertised ‘up to’ speeds are simply fiction for many. Ofcom and the ASA are going to announce possible changes to the way speeds are advertised later this year. It all seems like tremendously hard work just to get the broadband industry to act with honesty and integrity. This change to a more honest pricing policy is a good start, but we have a long way to go yet.

“Providers concerned that these rules somehow pull the claws from marketing efforts need to ask: If the prices advertised match exactly those customers are expected to pay, and a realistic speed range is offered, would anyone buy any less broadband?”

Image: Shutterstock

This article is part of our Real Business Broadband campaign, which seeks to provide a mouthpiece for business leaders to vocalise the broadband issues preventing their businesses from reaching full potential. We’d love to hear your take on the debate and where you think the UK needs to make drastic changes. Get in touch via email (shane.schutte@realbusiness.co.uk) or join in on the action using #rbBroadband.