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ASA publishes adjudication on Tiscali advert
Wednesday 05 July 2006 13:02:00 by Andrew Ferguson

Broadband providers are now a regular feature for the ASA, and this week sees Tiscali under the microscope following complaints from some subscribers to the service who believed the adverts were misleading, as the they thought Tiscali could not provide the full 1Mbps or 2Mbps services.

The complaints were not upheld, but does make for interesting reading into how this decision was arrived at. To read the adjudication visit www.asa.org.uk.

Tiscali told the ASA it did not monitor downloads because it thought it was impractical and not common industry practice. Whether this is a common thing is hard to say, we know some providers do take a keen interest in the speeds their customers see, and some do look at the speed test data we can supply from our site. How Tiscali supported its advertising was to supply three random tests that showed customers can get close to the theoretical maximum speed, and looking at the Tiscali customers who have used our speed tester we would agree, it is possible to get close to the 1Mbps or 2Mbps speeds depending on your product. This means that Tiscali is not advertising in a false manner, but we suspect that what the consumer is really interested in is what the sort of speeds they will get at the times of day they use the connection. With some providers the difference between peak time speeds and the quietest times can be significant, and as line speeds increase this gap appears to be opening up more.

One interesting phrase that we hope is a gross simplification, was used at the start of the adjudication "Tiscali UK (Tiscali) said their residential broadband service was a contended service; customers shared the 1Mb and 2Mb bandwidths". This could be taken to mean that a number of 1Mbps customers actually share a single 1Mbps sized connection from the exchange out to the Internet. In normal practice, it is actually the case that customers at the exchange are merged onto a connection that is several times larger than what any single user could use. If Tiscali are putting customers onto pipes that are only just big enough for one user, then contention is going to be felt more readily than with many other providers. In general Tiscali has more control of the contention with its products as it has traditionally been a heavy user of the BT Datastream products which remove control of contention from BT to the actual service provider.

One possibility for some Tiscali customers feeling they aren't getting their full speeds, is that the fair usage policy for their 'unlimited' service has come into effect. The Tiscali fair use policy is one with no specified figures, so people will find it difficult to know whether the slower speeds are down to the policy or other factors. In theory if the policy is working as it is worded, only a small number should be affected, but in practice it would seem that consumers who perhaps have one really big day of downloading in a month, can get penalised due to the daily assessment nature of the Tiscali system.

Perhaps all providers should reconsider how they advertise broadband, and give customers some actual idea of the differences in speed you can get over the course of a day, and base this on actual data. Managing expectation is something that needs to be addressed, and with the mass of advertising for up to 8Mbps products the scope for dissappointed customers is very large. Some press releases and adverts make it sound like the up to 8Mbps products are some new super technology, whereas in reality it is the same old ADSL, just with more freedom to try and run at faster speeds.

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