ASA publishes research highlighting low understanding of broadband speed
Following on from the roaring success of the inclusive pricing rule changes, the UK it appears is one step closer to a big change in how broadband speeds are advertised.
The research conducted by GfK for the ASA, looked at different ways of expressing the speed of broadband services that are advertised, and the four key points the ASA has chosen to highlight from the research are:
- Speed is an important factor for a significant proportion of consumers who are making decisions between providers
- Levels of knowledge and understanding of broadband speeds vary, but it is low overall with many not knowing what speed they need to carry out daily online tasks
- Most understand that the higher the number in the ad, the higher the speed of the service, but many are unclear on what this means for them and what speed they would likely achieve
- Crucially, the research shows that despite that uncertainty most consumers believe they are likely to receive a speed at or close to the headline speed claim when, for many, that is not likely to be the case
The research underpins the calls by the ASA for changes to how broadband speeds are advertised and now the Committees of Advertising Practice who maintain the various codes used in advertising has announced a review that will report in Spring 2017.
"CAP welcomes the ASA's research and we'll now begin the process of updating our guidance and publish a response next spring.
The research provides good insights into consumers' understanding of broadband speed claims, but it doesn't identify an obvious alternative way to communicate speeds that would be suitable to everybody's needs. It also tells us that consumers believe that advertising can only do so much, which underpins the importance of detailed broadband speed information being provided elsewhere.
CAP will take these findings and other information into account in its review of the guidance to ensure that broadband providers aren't over-promising on their speed claims.Director of CAP, Shahriar Coupal
So it looks likely that changes will take place, whether it is an average speed or some other percentile figure is not clear and won't be until Spring 2017. With customers saying speed is important any changes in how broadband speeds are advertised needs to be accompanied by a lot of education so the majority of the public is aware that things have changed.
With our speed testing we already have a very good clue as to the speeds providers would end up using in advertising and in line with most adverts we have removed upload speeds to simplify the tables (requiring advertising to mention upload speeds in the body is something that is well overdue).
|Download Speed ranges for various types of broadband connection and providers
Ordered by mean average speed and derived from thinkbroadband.com October 2016 speed test results
|BT Infinity FTTP/FTTH||16.6||27.5||43.7||56||70.3||107.7|
|Virgin Media Cable||8.1||21.5||41.6||50.1||65.4||101.5|
|BT Infinity FTTC/VDSL2||14||22.9||33.5||35||47.1||55.4|
Identifying precise products users are on can be difficult and the popularity of the up to 76 Mbps services varies greatly from provider to provider e.g. EE has only around 15% of its customers on what looks to be an up to 76 Mbps service, but BT Consumer has 28%, and Vodafone goes even higher at 30%. Given this imprecision it is still possible to arrive at a set of likely average speeds that could be the new advertising speed, up to 38 Mbps FTTC services will range from 26 Mbps to 30 Mbps in adverts and ADSL/ADSL2+ would be at around 5 to 6 Mbps. The up to 52 Mbps VDSL2 service looks likely to be around 40 Mbps and the up to 76 Mbps product maybe 50 Mbps if average speeds are used.
The problem of using the average speed in advertising is highlighted though by the difference in speeds between rural ADSL/ADSL2+ connections and normal ADSL2+ connections, where a new average rule would require a figure around 3.5 to 4.5 Mbps. So any national TV adverts are still giving skewed picture for those users, the difference between rural FTTC connections and the national picture is different, as rural areas appear to be getting a better average by 0.5 to 2 Mbps (varies from month to month) compared to the national average.
Virgin Media stands to do well potentially from the new changes, and while their over provisioning ensures they meet the 10% rule, there are plenty of people who suffer due to local congestion who do not believe the advertising hype already, so we would expect speeds advertised to still change for Virgin Media and an average figure may affect the 200 Mbps and 300 Mbps tiers much more than entry level 50 Mbps service, highlighting various network configuration issues.
So what is the answer? Well as we believe that no matter what figure you show in advertising it never going to be right due to the wide variations in how technology performs in different locations, and even on fixed connection speed services local capacity and regional/national congestion issues can prey heavily on the consumer experience. So the answer is we believe is for advertising to highlight that services will offer a range of speeds so people are aware upfront, and to encourage people check for the personal estimate at their property. With the Ofcom Broadband Speeds Code of Practice a speed estimate/range should be supplied as part of the sign-up process, so in theory most people should have some idea beyond the existing advertised figure, but we'd like to see providers make these checks easier to access, i.e. to be available both as part of the order journey but also in a more visible manner that does not opt you into marketing activities.
The switch to inclusive broadband pricing has at face value being a success, but after years of people being used to extra charges appearing, there is a real risk that those not aware that pricing includes line rental will think broadband prices have short up by just short of £20 since the summer, and a drop to average speeds in advertising may make people think a double whammy has occurred with connections slowing down. A more realistic scenario is a person who is enjoying 36 Mbps from VDSL2 now and sees an enticing advert but since the speed advertised is lower than what they get now they believe their speeds will reduce if they switch and thus it will dampen the switching market and stifle competition between the retail providers and make it very difficult for a new entrant like Vodafone to expand.
The ultimate answer of course is to not mention speed at all in an advert.
The research outlines several options going forward, and given the pressure for change we suspect that staying as we are is off the table.
- Specify a minimum speed, alas as the research highlights the public will see this as a guarantee and therefore difficult to implement, since consumers can experience zero speed from their broadband if a provider is experiencing very high loads.
- A speed range, perhaps bottom 25% to top 25%
- An average speed, but as the research suggests the public take the average to mean half are faster and half are slower, i.e. the median, but generally when providers talk about average speed they use the mean.
There is one more option, adopt business leased line pricing, a minimum guaranteed throughput with a higher burst speed, but how attractive does a 10 Mbps throughput with burst to 175 Mbps service sound?
Update 9:45am The full report and detail of the questions asked of the 84 people across 14 groups are now online on the ASA website.