Is speed to vanish from broadband advertising?
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):
- 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.
- Average speeds in advertising do not need to be preceded by 'up to'.
- 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.
- 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.
- Avoiding specific speed figures, and selling based on terms like superfast should reflect consumer expectation for what this term means.
- Upload speed claims should follow the new guidance where featured in advertising.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.