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Is speed to vanish from broadband advertising?
Sunday 01 April 2012 11:31:13 by Andrew Ferguson

New rules governing the use of up to in broadband advertising have gone live today, though the guidelines have been around for some months, and new campaigns in that period were expected to adopt the new guidelines. The short summary is as follows (the full help note):

  1. The words UP TO if preceding a speed figure e.g. 6 Mbps should mean that at least 10% of the customers using a service can experience this speed.
  2. Average speeds in advertising do not need to be preceded by 'up to'.
  3. Significant factors, that affect a service must be mentioned, e.g. ADSL2+ services (we assume all DSL based services are covered by this) should mention signal attenuation (line length) and if traffic management can affect a proportion of customers where they speeds would be significantly below the maximum speed.
  4. In addition to the new definition of the maximum speed of a service, in cases where a specific service may be significantly slower than the maximum, extra notes indicating this with an indication such as 'X% of our customers receive speeds below YMbps for service ABC' should be used.
  5. Avoiding specific speed figures, and selling based on terms like superfast should reflect consumer expectation for what this term means.
  6. Upload speed claims should follow the new guidance where featured in advertising.
  7. Speed comparisons with other providers e.g. our service is three times faster than the other guys, should be able to be substantiated and in adverts enough information provided so that the public can verify these claims.
  8. Speed claims need to be robust and representative of actual performance and should be relevant to the target audience. Data for speeds must be up to date, being updates at least every six months, or when a major change takes place on the service.
  9. Omission of information that may alter a consumers decision to purchase is not allowed.

Looking at providers websites today, on the first day of the new rules, what is surprising is the number of providers where there is no mention of speed at all, the favoured approach appears to be to advertise features of a service, and lead customers through to sign-up pages via one of the line speed checkers. What is worrying is that a number of providers do not even mention the base line technology used, making it harder for the average consumer to quickly browse their options. This sin of omission may actually come to the attention of the ASA, since it may be considered as misleading the consumer.

If providers now mention the maximum speed of a service, we are expecting to see figures of 5 to 7 Mbps for ADSL and around 12 to 16 Mbps for ADSL2+. The FTTC services will fare a lot better, with a figure of around 35 Mbps for the current 40 Mbps products, and the newer 80 Mbps service maybe being able to demonstrate that 70 Mbps is OK. Virgin Media and its DOCSIS 3.0 services, which have for years connected at higher speeds that the advertised figure, will pretty much have to make no changes.

At first glance the new rules look to be gifting the new more fibre based services an opportunity, but there is a distinct danger that there may be a big consumer backlash, particularly where a provider makes bold claims which while it may be able to back up from testing do not reflect what a vocal number of customers actually experience in the real world.

Smaller providers who have limited advertising budgets, may find that the cost of gathering speed data wipes out their advertising budget. One counter to this will be for providers to move towards more referral type marketing, which with the level of rewards offered in some cases may lead to more questionable marketing of a sort that is not visible to ASA.

The pressure to have data supporting the best possible speeds may prove too much in the next few months, and we may see providers refusing service to customers on longer slower performing lines, and the choice of lines for monitoring to gather speed is unlikely to be random or represent a true cross section of users. The need to have a good figure for Ofcom speed data, or whatever monitoring method a provider chooses, means that heavy broadband users and congested areas will most likely be avoided, as will those whose service appears to be under performing, e.g. 4 Mbps sync on a 45dB attenuation line.


Posted by herdwick over 5 years ago
The ASA want to be technology neutral so would probably be OK with no mention of the underlying technology.

The rejected the notion of clarifying whether a service is fixed speed (like cable) or variable (like ADSL) as being "unfamiliar to consumers".
Posted by cyberdoyle over 5 years ago
This is not good news for the final third, where many languish on less than half a meg.
Also it needs mentioning that many on 'superfast, fibre based' will end up in a new third, as many ISPs will put them on the cabinet, but due to line length they will only get 5meg. I think BT guarantee 15 meg off a cabinet, and this is what should go in the adverts. ie 'from 15 to 70' or whatever. I can see cabinets with capacity for 200 customers selecting those close to the cab for service to keep the stats up to speed. The other 500 will stay on adsl2+?
Posted by Joppy over 5 years ago
Hope that one day expected latency will be included in adverts, especially when they advertise the service for gamers.
Posted by Dixinormous over 5 years ago
If a cabinet is nearly full Openreach will install another one, they couldn't care less as they get paid the same regardless.

ISPs either set minimum speeds or have a separate tier for those a long way from the exchange - see BT Total with Fibre vs BT Infinity.

Good to see you posting up to your normal standards Chris.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@joppy if the advert were in a gaming magazine and extolled ability of their connections to work well for gamers compared to other providers, there would be a requirement to show evidence of this.

Alas copy writers are often very divorced from the technical realities of a service and what is required
Posted by Somerset over 5 years ago
Where would latency be measured from and to?
Posted by herdwick over 5 years ago
from the customers gaming console / pc to a popular game server would seem the obvious one to quote ?
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 5 years ago
@somerset perhaps the same places they are using as destinations for the speed testing
Posted by Yorkie71 over 5 years ago
It's a step in the right direction but there's much more to do if removing confusion is to be achieved. It would be easy for an ISP to achieve "up to" for at least 10% for example. As upload speeds become more important then these needs to be clearer and my pet hate, stating "super fast fibre broadband" when only part of the link is fibre should not be allowed. It should read "fibre based" so consumers can distinguish between FTTC and FTTP.
Posted by fibrebunny over 5 years ago
Overly convoluted tripe, seems to be something of a theme of late.
Posted by Essex over 5 years ago
very Concerned on the wording of the last paragraph. If any provider is 'allowed' to go down that path and refuses broadband because it will upset their 'business / investor / shareholder' model. We will again go even further back to the have not, cannot get broadband age. Is this the old weak OFCOM still barking? if so I think the consumers need to press their MP's again. Maybe this quango needs a bigger bonfire.
Posted by awoodland over 5 years ago
So presumably these new rules mean that we will be seeing a lot more of the "two tier" products with providers either refusing customers with low speeds entirely or doing like BT do with their FTTC products currently hand having "good sync" vs "bad sync" as two totally separate products.
Posted by awoodland over 5 years ago
I'd far rather see providers taken to task over the "fibre" marketing lies they currently spread before any perfectly factual "up to" is assumed to mean "at" instead.
Posted by New_Londoner over 5 years ago
As commented elsewhere, difficult to see the people that don’t grasp “up to” getting to grips with the small print that will be needed to explain the new numbers. And how long before complaints from people on long lines that ISPs don’t want to provide them with service as it will affect their stats?

A perfect storm of dumbing down and unintended consequences!
Posted by New_Londoner over 5 years ago

On cable, whilst noting the comments in the article about the service traditionally oeprating above the advertised speed to give some headroom, the growing volume of posts from very unhappy cable users suggests all is not well, especially for those on the faster services.

Perhaps no coincidence that traffic management has been announced for the 50Mb and 100Mb services today.
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