Change in broadband speed advertising claims announced

Laura Rutkowski

The Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – the body that writes and maintains the UK’s Advertising Codes – has announced a major change to the way broadband speed claims can be advertised.

Numerical speed claims in broadband ads should be based on the download speed available to at least 50% of customers at peak time and described in ads as “average”.

This marks a change from the current position that advertised “up to” speeds should be available to at least 10% of customers. CAP also recommends that speed-checking facilities, including those provided on internet service providers’ (ISPs’) websites, should be promoted in ads wherever possible.

Director of the Committees of Advertising Practice, Shahriar Coupal, said:

“There are a lot of factors that affect the broadband speed a customer is going to get in their own home – from technology to geography, to how a household uses broadband. While we know these factors mean some people will get significantly slower speeds than others, when it comes to broadband ads, our new standards will give consumers a better understanding of the broadband speeds offered by different providers when deciding to switch providers.

We continually review our standards to make sure they reflect consumers’ experiences, the technology available and the evidence base to make sure our standards are in the right place. Following extensive research and consultation, we hope our new standards will improve customer confidence in future ads,” he continued.   

PPA Director of External Affairs Owen Meredith, who represents publishers on CAP, commented:

“This change demonstrates the strength of self-regulation in non-broadcast advertising. Consumers have rightly been concerned about claims made by ISPs relating to broadband speeds. I’m pleased we have been able to listen to those concerns and respond with new standards that provide consumers with clear information on the broadband speeds they are able to achieve. These new rules work for consumers, publishers and advertisers alike and ensure trust in advertising is retained.”

The change follows research by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – the body that administers the Advertising Codes – into consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims. The research showed that consumers are likely to be materially misled by the advertising of speed claims that follow the current guidance.

CAP then carried out a full public consultation, which strongly indicated that a change to the current standards was supported by evidence and all key stakeholders. 

CAP consulted on the following options for the recommended basis for advertised speed claims:

  • median download speed measured at peak-time or over 24 hours; or
  • a range of download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users measured at peak time or over 24 hours.  

CAP received a wide range of responses, from major ISPs, a trade body representing over 200 ISPs, consumer groups, think tanks and Ofcom. Respondents unanimously supported change, with most arguing for median speeds measured at peak time, to be described as “average” or similar in ads, as the recommended basis for speed claims. Most respondents also favoured a single figure over a range and a peak-time measure over a 24-hour measure.

CAP considers that median peak-time download speed is the most meaningful speed measure to customers because:

  • Consumers may interpret a range as the speed they are likely to get individually, as opposed to the range that consumers generally are likely to get, and a range does not tell consumers where in the range they fall, if at all. A median speed, described as “average”, is easily understood and allows for consumers to make comparisons between different ads that they see.
  • As peak time is when traffic volumes are highest and traffic management policies are most likely to apply, a peak-time measure provides a better indication of the actual speeds consumers are likely to experience. CAP considers that a 24-hour measurement has the potential to mislead consumers by not providing an indication of the speed they are likely to receive at the time when people use the internet the most.  

The ASA has also today announced the outcome of its review of “fibre” claims in broadband advertising. Having considered all of the evidence provided during the review, it has concluded that it is not materially misleading to describe broadband services that use fibre-optic cables for only part of the connection to consumers’ homes as “fibre broadband”.

The ASA has published research that it commissioned as part of its review, carried out by the agency Define, which found that: “fibre” is not one of the priorities identified by consumers when choosing a broadband package; that consumers did not notice “fibre” claims in ads; that consumers, when probed, saw it as a shorthand buzzword to describe modern, fast broadband; and that consumers did not believe they would change their previous decisions after the differences between those services and broadband services that use fibre optic cables all the way to the home were explained to them.

In recognition of the performance differences between different types of broadband service, including between “part-fibre” and “full-fibre” services, the ASA advises that:

  • as has always been the case,  ads should not describe non-fibre services as “fibre”
  • ads should not state or imply a service is the most technologically advanced on the market if it is a part-fibre service
  • ads should make performance claims for fibre services (part- or full-) that are appropriate for the type of technology delivering that service, and should hold evidence to substantiate the specific claims made
  • specifically, ads should refer to speed in a manner that is appropriate for the technology, including by having due regard to CAP’s new guidance on numerical speed claims.

The guidance will take effect on May 23, 2018 after a six-month implementation period and will apply to residential broadband services.

Get in touch