We may be about to see the end of 'unlimited' broadband packages being widely advertised in the broadband and telecoms industry along with unrealistic speed expectations fostered by products listing the highest attainable speed for the service qualified by saying the speed is 'up to' the number quoted. 'Unlimited' broadband packages often actually have a usage limit or fair usage policy hidden in the small print which will contradict the 'unlimited' claim of the product. New Media Age reports that the Advertising Standards Agency is launching a review which will be carried out by the British Code of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) into how Internet services are advertised and it intends to look at these two areas in particular.
"We've looked at a number of complaints about individual ads in the telecoms sector regarding access speeds and usage limits and found that applying a single policy to how telecoms providers advertise can pose significant challenges.
It's important that we look at this on a broader policy level with service providers, other regulators and consumer groups, rather than relying on individual ASA rulings that focus on a particular service on one platform. Therefore, the ASA has invited CAP and BCAP to review broadband speed and 'unlimited' use claims."Lynsay Taffe, (Communications and Policy Manager), ASA
The industry is rife with these unlimited claims, which are nearly always limited in some manner. At the end of May, O2 clarified that on their O2 'Access' broadband product, advertised as 'unlimited', users should actually use only 10GB a month. This came to light at a time when O2 had just launched a new advertising campaign to 'nobble broadband niggles.'
The recent announcement of new smartphone contracts from O2 does move away from using 'unlimited' to describe their products as O2 believe that the amount of data use is unsustainable at the moment. Vodafone have been giving a similar message since December when 'unlimited' was removed from their Internet packages to avoid users being confused by 'unlimited' offers that weren't actually unlimited.
It will definitely be interesting to see how the review determines the industry should proceed. Under the current rules we are likely to see advertisers continuing to push the rules to the limit with unsupportable claims. Broadband speed marketing is a difficult beast to regulate in comparison to 'unlimited' broadband claims, as there needs to be a way for providers to differentiate the products they offer. It's therefore likely that we won't see the end of broadband adverts claiming speeds of 'up to x Mbps' but perhaps they may be required to state with equal prominence the average speed and the headline speed that users receive on the product. Ofcom's 'Code of Practice for broadband speeds' helps in this area to some degree, requiring operators to give users an estimate of the speed they are likely to receive based on line estimates before they order, however this can't be used in the same way where billboard or TV adverts are seen by large numbers of people.