The conclusion is simple the ASA this week has "told BT to ensure their availability checker provided accurate information." The difficult part is knowing what is an accurate speed, and how accurate can you actually be until someone has actually got a live service running at a property.
So why has the ASA come down like a tonne of bricks on BT over its availability checker, well one simple complaint where someone claimed that the download speeds for their line were misleading and whether they could be substantiated. BT Retail made a bit of a mistake in its response if the adjuration is an accurate transcription of the communications in it appears trying to rely on the Ofcom broadband performance report, which is based on a far too small sample size to tell anything about an individuals performance. Openreach put on a better show, explaining that they provide an estimate where they believe 80% will get the quoted speed and that the results are based on statistical analysis.
"The ASA understood that the Ofcom report related to consumers in general. We also understood that speeds could be checked via BT's 'availability checker' by a specific phone number or by house number and post code and therefore considered that consumers would expect that any resulting download speed claims would be accurate for their address. We considered that the download speeds quoted on the BT website would be a material consideration for consumers when deciding whether or not to take up BT's superfast fibre optic BT Infinity product.
Because the website included a download claim related to a specific address which was not available to that consumer, we concluded the ad was misleading.
The claim breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation), 3.9 and 3.10 (Qualification) and 3.11 (Exaggeration).ASA Assessment which upheld the complaint
The level of information for the original complaint is Spartan, with no mention of what speeds the complainant can actually get. Anyone who has used the BT Wholesale checker will know it returns two ranges of results now, those for an error free line and a slower set reflecting the impact that line faults or in home wiring may have on the service. Crucially the BT Retail Infinity availability checker only shows the error free (clean) range. Therefore the solution for the many broadband retailers and to remain with Ofcom rules where a speed range has to be given at the point of sale would be to show both sets of speeds, or the minimum and maximum from the two ranges.
The full fibre advocates will celebrate this as another nail in the coffin for VDSL based fibre services, but while full fibre services provide fixed connection speeds, issues like end-users hardware, network protocol overheads and contention in the provider network mean that speeds will still not always hit the technical limit of the network.