Virgin Media have today called for an end to misleading advertising with regards to broadband speeds. Many service providers prefix their product speeds with a qualifier of 'up to', meaning that the speed you will receive will be up to the listed speed, generally 'up to 8Mbps' or 'up to 24meg', and Virgin are saying that this is "the broadband con".
The practice of describing the products in this way has been common in the industry for a few years now and had been accepted by the advertising standards agency (ASA) as a valid way to describe a product that will receive different speeds depending on the length of your phoneline, amongst other factors. As yet, no one appears to have come up with a more appropriate way to describe them, something that this campaign from Virgin is equally mute on.
Virgin commissioned a survey by ICM to find out consumer opinion on broadband advertising and 9 out of 10 people asked said they thought it was misleading.
"People are paying for superfast broadband but receiving a service stuck in the slow lane. Broadband providers need to stop advertising speeds that not a single customer can receive and we're asking people to support our call for change by signing up to stopthebroadbandcon.org. Faster broadband means better broadband, whether you're surfing the web, watching TV online or downloading music and UK consumers deserve superfast broadband they can trust, rather than having to rely on the fairytales and broken promises of current broadband advertising."Jon James, (executive director of broadband) Virgin Media
Head honcho of the Virgin Group, Sir Richard Branson, is also backing the campaign launched today by Virgin Media which can be found at www.stopthebroadbandcon.org.
"Staying connected is central to our lives and we all deserve broadband we can trust. I'm challenging all broadband providers to be honest with their customers and ask people to add their voice to the campaign by signing up to Stopthebroadbandcon.org."Richard Branson, Virgin Group
Of course, one criticism is that even though Virgin tend to stand apart from other providers due to the way they deliver their service (cable modem broadband isn't as susceptible as DSL broadband to broadband slow downs due to distance), there are still other factors that can slow your broadband down so you don't get what you are paying for. These include congestion in the providers network, or traffic management (which Virgin do use) to slow down heavy users at peak times. Whilst Virgin are open about their traffic management policy, some will argue that by implementing such techniques to avoid congestion rather than investing in extra bandwidth, people may not infact be getting what they pay for.
One point that seems to be missing from the Virgin PR is that work is already under way to adapt how broadband products are sold (although no changes are planned in relation to the use of the wording 'up to'. Ofcom have a Voluntary Code or Practice that broadband providers are expected to sign up to. This allows self-regulation and should mean that before any consumer purchases a broadband product, they are advised of the expected broadband speeds that will be available based on a test of their phone line. If these speeds aren't met, new rules say that broadband providers should migrate consumers to a slower, cheaper package if available. Whilst this doesn't solve the problem of misleading adverts, it does help address the issue of people getting what they pay for.
Unfortunately for Virgin, they also fall foul of using the 'up to' motif on both their broadband and their National Broadband products which are sold in areas where Virgin haven't rolled out their own network. Virgin do provide details of typical speeds that could be expected from their service, but this information provided by a DSL provider wouldn't be particularly meaningful as the speeds are mainly affected by line length.