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Consumer panel call for a ban on use of 'up to' in broadband advertising
Friday 25 February 2011 15:54:23 by John Hunt

The communications consumer panel (CCP) have responded to the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) consultation on the use of the words 'up to' in broadband advertising, proposing that advertisers should be banned from using the phrase at all. The ASA launched a review into advertising practice within the broadband industry last year, in relation to how products are described in terms of broadband speeds and usage limits, in the hope of avoiding consumers being mislead by terms such as 'unlimited' and 'up-to'.

Various proposals were put forward in the consultation document, including keeping the current policy used by the ASA, or restricting the use of speeds that are quoted to ensure that they are available to a certain proportion of users connected to the service advertised. Unfortunately, the CCP seem to be taking a simplistic approach to this, calling for the abolishment of being able to use 'up to' in describing speeds and instead requiring broadband providers to only quote a single speed qualified by a description of what proportion of users can get this speed.

"The current approach of advertising 'up to' broadband headline speeds is no longer credible or sustainable and is causing widespread scepticism amongst consumers. I would like to see 'up to' replaced by a typical speed description, such as 'half of our customers receive at least xMb.'"

Anna Bradley, (Chair) Communications Consumer Panel

The listing of a single speed as proposed here by the CCP will itself be misleading and will restrict information available to consumers who are looking for broadband services. ISPs under CCP proposals will be restricted to either stating a high speed and saying only a small proportion of users will get this speed (with the rest not being aware of what the average is), or advertising a lower speed, with those who can get the highest speeds not being aware of the full potential of the product.

A more sensible approach would perhaps be to allow broadband providers to state what the maximum speed of the service is but require them to provide an average speed range that users typically get on this product, for example: "Maximum speed 40Mbps, 2/3rds of users receive 20-28Mbps". This would then give consumers an indication of the maximum achievable, but also an idea of what they are likely to get.


Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
It continues to baffle me why there is an apparent difficulty in understanding "up to"? These groups seem to assume that the vast majority of consumers are clueless.

Why confuse matters by replacing a relatively simple concept with some variation of an arbitary "typical speed" which may or may not apply to me, when "up to" combined with a mandatory requirement to provide an estimate for my line before I confirm the purchase is much clearer?
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago

And don't put undue emphasis on this anyway as sync speed is all well and good but throughput gives a much better indication of real-world speed. And don't take my word for it, just ask any number of cable customers at the moment about the importance of throughput versus sync speed!
Posted by jchamier over 6 years ago
Agree with New_Londoner - many people on this site would assume the marketing is talking about sync, but non-site visitors would probably assume the marketing is talking about _achievable_ speeds from known websites. Given traffic management and low price points the latter is often a lot lower due to no money to invest.
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Idiots. I assume they know that advertisers are *required to* use the "up to" phrase by the ASA.

I did respond to the consultation suggesting that the speed should be stated in terms of data throughput measurable by the consumer using a speedtester, so MaxDSL would be up to 6.8Mbits/s.

I also suggested that it should be mandatory to differentiate fixed speed services (eg cable) from rate adaptive ones.
Posted by krazykizza over 6 years ago
BT already do this with Infinity. They state in the advert that most customers are receiving speed uplift of three times.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
Not really - we don't know what speed these customers were on in the first place so a totally pointless advertising statement.
Posted by e102gamma over 6 years ago
"up to" is fine. It's "unlimited" they should be going after.
Posted by jmvincent over 6 years ago
This is madness. Some people can just be stupid, stop wasting the Indusrty's time with stupid complaints like this. Upto is perfectly fine. Where I live in my town I get UPTO 3.5mbps. In the next town over I can have as much as 6mbps. vodafone have also stated what the average speed could be, 3mbps was one suggestion. The use 'Unlimited' should be band, If it's not unlimited.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

Posted by timmay over 6 years ago
All the time that broadband is provide over a rate adaptive connection there will be a need to advertise the speed as up to xMbps. Cable is a fixed speed service but the speed will vary dependant on network load (contention) not distance. So there is still some need to use up to for cable. Only a 1:1 leased line can guarantee a speed, but even then there will be bottlenecks out on the internet that are out of the ISP's control.

Ditti it should be unlimited that they are going after.
Posted by jrawle over 6 years ago
Another vote for banning "unlimited" in adverts. I also agree that the advertised speed should be throughput not sync speed - it's not clear which they mean from this article.

However, there needs to be a way for an advert to explain which technology you're getting for the price: ADSL, ADSL 2+, FTTC, etc. That's the information I glean from the "up to" value.
Posted by timmay over 6 years ago
@jrawle agreed that the quoted speed should be achievable throughput and not sync.
Posted by oomingmak over 6 years ago
Agree with the comments above. "Up to" is fine, it's "unlimited" that is the REAL problem (and not just for ISPs).

BT do the same with their "unlimited" phone calls that have a whole raft of restrictions on individual call length, total number of calls per month and total call minutes per month all buried away in the small print.

It's disgusting that companies have been allowed to get away with this blatant deception for so many years while attention is diverted elsewhere (where it's not even needed).
Posted by Tuliptownman over 6 years ago
I think average throughput should be the way to go along with an update to Oftel's standards on what is an acceptable speed is. If this was tied to advertised average throughput it would mean that consumers would have a choice of paying more for guaranteed higher speeds with the technical support necessary or paying less for lower average speeds and accepting that what they get is just that. It would mean that those who require the speed for media streaming etc pays for it.

Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
finally some pressure been put on the lax xDSL market, unfortenatly I feel its came way behind time, this should have happened the moment the legacy fixed speed adsl products got scrapped. Up to is reasonable to account for peak time congestion but currently its abused, people on sub 1mbit lines on up to 20mbit products as an example.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
up to and unlimited are both severe problems, the fact isp's have got away with what they doing on speeds has removed 90% of motivation to improve infrastructure to improve end user speeds, since an isp can market high speeds no matter how good the line is. If this was tightened up then the business case for FTTx would change overnight.
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
Unlimited is also being addressed by the consultation that closed yesterday.

The ASA *currently* require any xDSL product over 2M to make it clear that speed is dependent on distance etc, prominently, and in addition to "up to".

"people on sub 1mbit lines on up to 20mbit products as an example." - but it doesn't cost them any more so what is the actual problem ?
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
What a stupid idea. The ISPs aren't even responsible in most cases for the speed a customer gets. The issue of connection speed is a geographical one.

What's the point in knowing what half the customers will get if you happen to live in a satellite village? Or in the town centre next to the exchange?

Now banning 'unlimited' would be sensible. But there's nothing wrong with 'up to' as long as there's a means to get a personal estimate.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
Where 'up to' needs clarification as others have pointed out is the whole 'sync speed' v. 'throughput' issue. That /is/ under ISP control and should be a major factor when choosing an ISP.
Posted by SheepFarmer over 6 years ago
If an average figure was made mandatory in advertising it might encourage ISPs to cherry pick their customers so those with slower lines could be excluded from certain products.

If you've got a long line your list of potential ISPs might be quite a short one. The battle to show the highest average will be key.
Posted by shaunhw over 6 years ago
Silly burghers! It's"unlimited" people want to see the end of, unless it truly is. "Up to" is OK, for ADSL, however on FTTP products they should declare the speed as there should be little in the way of speed loss along such a connection. Perhaps "Up to" should be banned for those kind of products where physics doesn't necessarily limit the speed ?

Posted by otester over 6 years ago
"Unlimited" thing only really applies to major ISPs, aka. the worst ones...

With the better ones unlimited almost always means unlimited or they don't use it.
Posted by Btcc22 over 6 years ago
A slight problem is ISPs using "up to" to get away with selling services that aren't fit for use.

'Up to' ought to reserved solely for situations where the line can't achieve the maximum speed due to physical limitations, not for providers to use when their network can't cope with providing the service as it is now.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
That would require people to pay more which wouldn't go down well.

Visible contention is a perfectly normal, and acceptable, part of shared broadband services.
Posted by Btcc22 over 6 years ago
Depends who you ask and how visible we're talking about. Plenty other countries manage a far superior service at a fair price point. Shame we can't.
Posted by vincedurso over 6 years ago
isn't this a simple weights and measures problem similar to beer froth problem of the 1980's, if you go into a pub and get short measured, how do you feel?
Posted by otester over 6 years ago


-BT/VM have large debts.
-BT has to subsidize the competition.
-Infrastructure is still owned by BT.

Not a great starting point.
Posted by AndrueC over 6 years ago
- Ofcom has spent the last two decades convincing people that broadband should be cheap.
Posted by Dixinormous over 6 years ago
Such as Btcc22?

Take account of purchasing power parity, contention and any government subsidies before you answer.

Comes down to what you call a fair price point really. Most of our services are below what I would consider a fair price point and have the quality to match.
Posted by herdwick over 6 years ago
"isn't this a simple weights and measures problem similar to beer froth problem of the 1980's"

No. Inadequate Analogy fail.

Rate adaptive broadband services are sold at the same price regardless of the speed they achieve. The speed is determined largely by location.

Beer is not sold at a price per glass regardless of how full it is, and the level of fill is not a function of where you stand / sit.
Posted by zebedee2 over 6 years ago
Have to agree with earlier comments that 'up'to' should not be the target. 'Up to' correctly describes the situation and is in keeping with most peoples' understanding.
On the other hand, 'unlimited' has a normal meaning that is totally add odds with the attachment of 'strings'. To suggest that a fair usage policy is compatible with the word unlimited is simply dishonest.
Posted by BrianWood over 6 years ago
What upsets me more than 'up to' are eye-catching prices quoted like '£7.50 pm' followed in tiny print by 'for 3 months then £18 a month (18 month contract)'. Firstly I would prefer the up-front price to be the continuing price. Secondly how do I know if the product is any use before entering a 18-month contract?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
Hands up if anyone has ever had a personal loan approved at the typical APR as stated in the advertising?
Posted by pigfister over 6 years ago
a ban on "unlimited" seems all uk isp's traffic shape throttle & most of the unlimited packages are subjected to a fair use policy (fup) that is a limit....

completely, continually astounds me how the corporations dictate to the government while the people get shafted..
Posted by kijoma over 6 years ago
banning unlimited claim is a good idea. no resource is ever unlimited :) . quoting actual throughput speeds instead of sync rates would be good too. As a fixed wireless ISP we only quote actual transfer speeds, no artificially high "sync" speed ignoring all the ATM overhead etc..
Posted by wallace-yg over 6 years ago
Most contributors appear to be confusing bandwidth (MB/accounting period) with data rate (Mb/s). The nub of the issue surely is the latter - but this is where it becomes difficult to legislate, mainly because (in rural areas at least) the distance from the exchange is the determining factor plus, of course, the number of users. I live in such an area and am about 200m from the exchange; I get a regular 7.2Mb/s from my "up to" 8Mb/s Plusnet broadband - but other friends on the edge of the village are hard pressed to get 1Mb/s.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

There are some ISPs which do honour it (no FUP/throttling) if you look, misuse of the word however should be banned.


Technically if an ISP dedicates same amount of Mbps that it sells to a customer then it would effectively unlimited.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 6 years ago
All boils down to where are these magical countries where there is no contention on consumer broadband, and people get advertised speeds when they use it.

Plenty do better than UK, but basic equation is the same, consumer broadband is cheap due to shared bandwidth.
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

They are more expensive in other countries, I think that is why as they can then afford the necessary backhaul investment.

People seem to think they are entitled to pay the lowest cost and get the best service...
Posted by AspieMum over 6 years ago
They should be required to show the slowest and most common speeds present customers get when advertising broadband speeds.
Posted by AspieMum over 6 years ago
I get 1.5MB but with my previous ISP at this address I only got 700 and something KB. I'm only 1.9 miles from my exchange. In every day life that isn't all that far but suddenly when it comes to broadband speeds its like 100 miles away comparatively.
Posted by New_Londoner over 6 years ago
"They should be required to show the slowest and most common speeds present customers get when advertising broadband speeds."

The problem with this approach is that it would encourage service providers to cherry pick who they sell to in order to show better figures. Are you sure you want to reduce the number of servicer provider options on your long-line?
Posted by otester over 6 years ago

My line length is ~4km long and I get 5.5Mbps, so it sounds like a problem on your end.

The lowest ADSL bRAS profile (speed) is 135 (Kbps).
Posted by trufflehunt over 6 years ago
Long, long ago before the digital telephone exchanges in the UK, it was quite common for the electro-mechanical ones to get overloaded. Continued investment changed that.

Just about everyone who has commented here so far, seems quite technically aware. I'm just a punter, and in my opinion 'up to' advertising is one of the oldest marketing tricks in the book. Ofcom is absolutely right.

More investment. Less sales and marketing puff.
Posted by chrysalis over 6 years ago
Those defending 'up to' here is what you defending. 3% close to advertised speed, less than 1/3rd above 8mbit on 20/24mbit services.
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