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Are broadband ads a ‘complete and utter joke’?

Snail on cable

In a new development for our Broadband Speed Guaranteed campaign, two MPs have come out to criticise misleading broadband ads. Do you agree with what they have to say?

On Wednesday last week, culture minister Ed Vaizey MP told a House of Commons Committee that he thought the current rules on broadband advertising were ‘a complete and utter joke’. Here’s what he said:

‘It’s ridiculous. The idea that if you can deliver to 10% of houses the broadband speeds you are advertising on a large billboard and get away with it seems to be a complete and utter joke, and I have told that to [the ASA’s] face.’

Ed Vaizey didn’t stop there. He continued:

‘It is good to have independent regulators. But I also feel as a politician and minister in this space I want to have the opportunity to express my frustrations. I am frustrated.

‘The way broadband speeds are advertised are misleading and I’d like to see them changed. I’ve made my views clear and the ASA will be aware of my concerns.’

Broadband providers are failing

And then there was Grant Shapps MP, who on Friday spoke on Radio 4’s Today programme. He too criticised broadband providers and the Advertising Standards Authority for failing to act on misleading broadband adverts, saying:

‘Internet service providers are failing to provide anything like the speeds they are advertising. Rather than one in ten, it should be nine in ten people receive the speeds. You should be able to leave the contract and if we can’t get the internet service providers, or indeed the regulators, to do that, then parliament will need to act.’

A spokesman for the ASA said in response to Grant Shapps:

‘Our position on broadband speed claims in ads is based on extensive work undertaken in recent years, including a full public consultation on new guidance. We are an independent, evidence-based regulator and that underpins our regulation.

‘We are, however, aware of concerns about this issue and we are carefully considering if there is further work we can do on the matter.’

Here at Which?, we think that Ed and Grant are right. And more than 100,000 people back us. We’re calling for the ASA to change its 10% rule – broadband ads should show the speeds the majority of their customers will get. Not just 10% of them. And we also want it to be quicker and easier for customers to get compensation if they don’t get the speeds they’re promised.

Moving forwards

We’ve had some wins on this already, with Virgin Media and SSE both backing our campaign. And then Ofcom launched a Broadband Code of Conduct here at Which? UK, which included a right for you to exit your broadband contract without penalty if you don’t get what you were promised when signed up. Ofcom is also consulting on automatic compensation for telecoms customers.

But we know there’s more to do, so it’s great to hear MPs so strongly backing what we’ve been saying over the years. What do you think? Do you agree with Ed and Grant?

I’d also love to see what percentage of customers you think should be achieving a headline speeds before a broadband provider can then advertise that speed. Please vote for what you think’s reasonable in the poll below.

When a broadband provider advertises an *up to* speed, what is the minimum percentage of customers this speed should apply to?

Only 100% of customers (37%, 574 Votes)

90% of customers (32%, 494 Votes)

80% of customers (12%, 179 Votes)

70% of customers (7%, 110 Votes)

Under 10% of customers (4%, 64 Votes)

50% of customers (3%, 39 Votes)

10% of customers (2%, 32 Votes)

60% of customers (2%, 30 Votes)

30% of customers (1%, 8 Votes)

40% of customers (0%, 3 Votes)

20% of customers (0%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,536

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Stephen Threlfall says:
19 April 2016

The problem is with the failure of Openreach to decide how to best provide the service to those of us in the countryside, at the same time they have been grabbing as much money as possible to pay themselves and shareholders bonuses. Fibre to the cabinet is of no use in the countryside without boosting the signal every Kilometer or so, the signal is no where as robust as the old system down a copper wire. I understand there is a node that can be attached to the poles to increase the fibre signal. The other way is to lay a fibre cable. I have been paying part of my line rental to Openreach for the provision of highspeed broadband, but they have so far failed miserably. My provider ( talktalk ) has been slowly improving the speed down the wire that openreach is failing to improve for highspeed broadband. I have no arguement with TalkTalk as they have mostly provided a good and cheap service.


There’s a bigger joke than the ads, that’s the regulator that allows them to get away with the ads. Maybe they should be forced to only state the min speed that people will get, that would focus them on improving the service. As I can’t imagine they’d like to say “Get our Superfast broadband, no connection is all we can guarantee”


As I understand it the speed an individual gets depends partly on the distance from the exchange, partly on time of day, partly on their home equipment and its disposition. If you contact your potential broadband supplier with your phone number they will check to see what the line, that is under their control, is likely to give. So surely the best way to tell people about speed is to advertise prominently “contact the provider for your likely speed”. I’m only interested in the speed I will get, not what the minimum or the maximum might be for my area.


Surely distance from the exchange is only applicable to people conned into using their phone line to run broadband down. Proper fiber lines, shouldn’t suffer from that problem unless you talking amazingly long distances ? no ?


Why is using a phone line a con? I am on copper broadband and I also use a land line phone, like a lot of people. I asked what speed I should get and was told pretty accurately.

The interview I saw with Grant Shapps was a typical politician’s argument – being economical with the facts (or maybe he didn’t understand the facts?). No mention of how easy it is to get a predicted speed for your particular property, just joining a bandwagon.

Just like this Convo introduction. It is fine to criticise a regulation that allows an “up to” speed to be given that 10% will get. But why not also tell people how to find out their expected speed? Spoils a good story I suppose. But Which?, you are about informing consumers as well as campaigning for them, aren’t you?


Here ! here ! malcolm ! There are websites that give you the real average speeds and they are 10-25Mbps slower than the top 10 % .


Hi Malcolm! This is one area that this campaign is focusing on- we want advertisers to be up front about the speeds that can actually be achieved. Part of that is certainly making sure that people know all they can about the service they’ll be receiving, and making sure people are informed.