Double whammy for Virgin Media with the ASA
Virgin Media and its fibre to the cabinet and then coax to the home broadband service features twice in this weeks adjudications from the Advertising Standards Authority, but in reality the complaints are fairly similar.
People may remember some of the headlines used in recent Virgin Media advertising such as "HATE TO WAIT? THE UK'S FASTEST BROADBAND IS FIBRE OPTIC" and "THE UK'S FASTEST BROADBAND FOR ONLY £20 A MONTH". As is usual the number of complaints is actually just a handful, but the ASA still has to look into them.
The adjudication with the most complaints (three), centered on two issues, whether the Virgin Media 20Mbps product was the fastest in the UK, with some providers offering ADSL2+ at up to 24Mbps. Also Sky challenged whether the Epitiro data was sufficient to substantiate the fastest broadband claim.
In this instance the ASA actually upheld both complaints, with the results the adverts must not be shown in the same form again and Virgin Media were told to not imply their 20Mbps service was the fastest broadband available and to ensure they held robust comparative evidence from all ISPs in the UK before making similar claims.
Since ASA rulings apply to the current advert and form a rule set for all advertising to follow, by saying that to compare broadband speeds and make claims you have to have evidence from ALL providers seems a bit of a sweeping statement. The UK broadband market is dominated by around six providers who hold around 90% of the market. The remaining 10% is split between hundred's of providers, and getting sensible data from more than around 30 providers is difficult.
The second adjudication covered five different press adverts and Sky challenged four things, mainly over implications that ADSL was always slow, and the implication that Virgin Media cable broadband never slows down.
The ASA upheld three out of the four complaints, with the result that Virgin Media in future adverts includes a disclaimer that speed could be affected by user volume on its products, and not to imply that ADSL was always slow or that fibre-optic cable would never slow down.
The battle between cable broadband and ADSL started in user forums and advertising in the USA way back in 1998, and it provides easy fodder for advertising. Perhaps the way forward is rather than trying to set one broadband technology up against another, that providers advertise the actual user experience. The general public cares little about how their broadband arrives, so long as it does what they want it to do when they want it to do it.