/ Technology

Win! Advertising watchdog changes rules for broadband ads

Broadband speed

New advertising standards to crackdown on misleading speed claims in broadband advertising. Will this lead to better broadband?

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which sets advertising guidelines for the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to implement, has announced that from May 2018 broadband providers will be required to change their advertising of speed claims.

This is a big win for our broadband speed campaign and the 127,000 people who have backed it. We hope that today’s announcement will finally ensure people get a clearer idea of the speeds they could actually get in their home before they sign up to a new deal.

Broadband speed

When people ask me about my job at Which?, I have a fact I always bring out. Did you know that only 10% of broadband customers need to receive a headline download speed for providers to promote it in their ads?

We’ve been working on the issue of misleading speed ads for a long time, and back in 2014 we launched our Broadband Speed Guaranteed campaign to tackle the problem.

We called on CAP to look into this and it agreed, consulting on proposals to implement tougher standards for advertising speed claims.

We know from our research that people expect to receive around 91% of the speed that is advertised, which backed our view that people were being misled when signing up to broadband packages.

Most people understand that their broadband will vary at different times but it’s unclear what their expectations should be when they sign up to a new deal. Under the current rules, if a provider says a customer can get ’up to’ 24mbps with their package it’s unclear whether this will be consistently or at 4am

So today’s announcement marks a fundamental shift in advertising within the broadband market. CAP supported our recommendation to make the headline advertised speed an average of what people can expect to get in their homes at peak times. It also concluded that the headline advertised speed should be achievable by at least 50% of customers – a great improvement on the current 10% level.

But what is peak time for broadband, I hear you ask? Everyone relies on the internet at different times but Ofcom defines peak time as 8pm to 10pm for residential customers.

Fix Bad Broadband

While today will go some way to crackdown on misleading broadband speed ads, our work on broadband is far from finished.

Broadband remains an essential part of modern life and yet many aren’t getting the service they need. Earlier this year we launched our Fix Bad Broadband campaign to identify and tackle the barriers to getting a good, reliable broadband connection.

We know that urban and rural communities alike are let down by poor connections, dropouts and slow speeds. We’ve been calling on people to use our free speed checker so that we can build a better picture of broadband speeds across the UK and identify areas of bad broadband, to help people get better connected.

So what do you think of today’s news? Will this help improve the transparency of broadband speed claims? Are you happy with your broadband provider, or do you think your service could be better?


I am lucky to get good speeds all the time, when I have a connection. I am only 200m from the box that connects our copper wire phone line to the fibre optic cable connection box. However, “when I have a connection” is the problem. I do not use my computer all day but when I do the connection drops out or is not obtainable very often for about 3 – 4 minutes on average. Is this because there are too many people trying to use the connection or is Openreach giving priority to some customers, such as their own?

How do you connect wifi or ethernet cable ? See duncan lucas’s message to James on 24/11 he’s absolutely right. Wifi is wonderful BUT it is wide open to local interference issues which result in slow speeds and connection issues. Routers are also not always perfect either.

if you want to get rid of misleading claims about broadband speeds the solution is simple. pass an act that prohibits by law any company advertising anything other than its minimum broadband speed for a contracted amount. example 20mbps download speed 10mbps upload speed for £20 per month plus line rental.
This is a very effective way of knowing exactly what you are paying for and what is being provided. it leaves no grey areas as to what is contracted and expected.
It also means your landline, would have to be tested by the provider to make sure it could comply to that minimum speed.
ie you want 100mbps download 70mbps upload package but your copper landline has to travel 1/4 mile to the nearest connection box and then 5 miles to the nearest exchange which hypothetically limits your broadband 50mbps download 40Mbps upload then the provider could then only offer you a contract for say half that speed because it would be the minimum they could provide you with.
And everyone gets what they pay for.

The result, Harry, would be that no service provider would offer more than 1 Mbps. I suspect that Ofcom knew that would be the outcome if they went in that direction. The new advertising ruling by the ASA is possibly the best practical compromise between what is desirable for the customer and what is deliverable by the market. Tightening up the ratio test will be a major step forward and the service providers now have five months in which to make their fibres fit the figures.

Exactly John. Some choose to ignore the meaning of “up to” although it would be a great help if the adverts spelled out exactly what they offer. It will now be “up to” X Mbps that 50% should get most of the time, and 50% won’t. I really don’t know a better way of describing something that is subject to so many variables. We must simply be realistic about how broadband delivery works and I don’t see how it will generally lead to “better broadband” for an individual without subscribing to a faster service if it is available. .

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David Gilmore says:
26 November 2017

Please be aware that the abbreviation for mega (one million) bits per second is Mbps not mbps as stated in your article. mbps would be milli bits per second i.e. one thousandth of a bit per second. I think you should publish something that clarifies the nomenclature to help demystify it for the public. for example what are Mbps, Gbps, MB, GB, Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet etc.

Perhaps some people do get mbps 🙂 Trillion have different meanings – 1 million million in the uSA (and now in the UK I believe) but the original (?) meaning in some other countries – one million million million. Zimbabwe perhaps. When can we expect to be arguing about broadband in Tbps? We’ll be downloading films before they’ve been released.

Rob M says:
26 November 2017

Nearly all the providers give you a contract that is misleading as they oversell the connections and you are sharing what you paid for YOUR USE with everybody else….Would you like me to name the companies I know that are not forthcoming and honest ????? Oh damn I said the H word….

I think companies should advertise a guaranteed minimum speed. That we would know what we are actually paying for

BrianM says:
27 November 2017

interesting discussion . broadband is a service so what do you believe is an acceptable speed ? 80% or 20% of the quoted speed?? would you be happy if your car went to the garage to be serviced and they said they only did 80% of service because they were busy! Probably not .

That is not a fair comparison. We all know that Broadband cannot be quantified in the same way so constant pecking on a semantic point is not helpful. The ASA have come up with a reasonable basis that reduces the tendency for misrepresentation while still giving a comparative indication of speed that is useful for marketing purposes. Their job is to promote fair advertising practice, not regulate the telecom industry.

This year our connection has been completely lost 3 times because the cable has been cut through by the Council contractors cutting grass verges
The cable is meant to be armoured and buried deep enough to avoid this
When you ring BT who our broadband is with you will get a repair within 3 days if you report it as no phone connection
If you report it as no broadband connection you will be told up to 7 days
Despite this having occurred 3 times and twice in previous years Openreach still haven’t replaced the cable with the correct one and buried it properly
Whenever you ring them with a fault you immediately get the threat of “if its found the fault is inside your property you will be charged £126 etc” even when they test the line and find its down
That’s despite the fact that they installed the cabling up to and inside the house themselves
They did charge £126 to replace their master socket recently with a newer style one which of course made no difference whatsoever
Regularly the BT homehub will go to red right in the middle of something you are watching while it is being updated remotely by BT

Well I did the test of speed on broadband with Virgin and should be 100 but came up to 103 so I have to say I am ok

My last speed test, on my friend’s Virgin gave 173 over wifi.

I was gobsmacked – previous tests at that house had never given more than about 35.

Thomas Lewis says:
27 November 2017

Good news but still not good enough.this should be for everyone not just 50% as it is a get out for providers which they will exploit and everyone should get what they are paying for

Below 1 mb/s download on all tests yet again today,no landline for weeks-cheers Sky!Yes they’ve been contacted many times over the last few years and yes Open reach have been out several times.I’ll also throw mud at O.R too as they seem as privy to the mess as Sky.One gets the impression we’re held to poor quality in the push to get us to part with even more money.I was already livid with Sky,as literally a month after begrudgingly hooking up to a new 18 months contract for Sports/BB/landline,out of the bag they finally separate the Sports channels/offers meaning after years of paying through the nose for football just to ensure I got my other sport-I have an almost fresh 17 months of continuing to stump up the premium with no warning.To rub salt into the wound,after forking out so much for Prem Footy there’s not enough left in their kitty to pay for Ashes Cricket yet Sky still have the cheek to launch a new ‘Cricket Channel’ showing yep no England V Australia coverage-they left BT bid for the rights!So,this Cricket fan,paying for a ‘Cricket Channel’ can’t watch cricket-so he streams it but can’t stream cricket or even watch highlights properly using his Sky Broadband because their speed is so poor he can barely surf-let alone stream!They were trying to hold Eurosport to ransom over the pittance they pay them-until uproar from our many cycling fans forced Sky to hastily get that deal sorted.Only reason I didn’t leave Sky this year was we were in the thick of a lengthy home renovation,with some health issues and didn’t want the hassle of switch everything on top.From reading up on things I’m obviously not alone,good luck all!

I think customers should get what they pay for and if this service is not possible, then the customer should only pay for the speed they are receiving.
There should not be a discussion on what factors are the cause of the speed drop, if the installation company can not improve the speed, the customers can then pay for what they receive through the broad band system, then there should not be a problem.

Christopher Aitchison-Knight says:
15 December 2017

It’s great and all but doesn’t raise the issue of Openreach failing people by not upgrading all cabinets. They then refuse to come back and do the work as it’s not economical to do so according to them

Who aside from a tech head would actually know what ‘Broadband’, ‘Superfast broadband’ and ‘Ultrafast broadband’ mean. Also you’d be forgiven thinking that Fibre broadband would actually involve a fibre optic cable, not just part of the way between Exchange and Home but all the way.

I think that since the government has mandated the Universal Service Obligation, which is 10mbps, they should also define that ‘Broadband’ applies to anything above 25mbps. They should also use the term of the least performant part of the connection, so in the case of FTTC or Infinity, it’s not ‘fibre’ but ‘copper’ or ‘DSL’. That way only proper Fibre connections, ie FTTP/H are the only things that can be ‘fibre’.

And as for fast/superfast/ultrafast there’s absolutely no differentiation. It’s either broadband or it’s not.

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There are two fundamental problems with rolling out fibre. The first is the return on investment calculation is measured within a 10 year period. However, given the majority of the copper network was rolled out in the 1970’s, ie over 40 years ago, fibre should be measured over the same period. As technology progresses we just replace the gubbins at either end of the line, just like we’ve done with copper.

The second issue is that there’s no universal plan. The govt has already failed to split away Openreach from BT, and the knock-on effect is that we now have many different networks, like B4RN, Gigaclear, Hyperoptic as well as Openreach. We don’t have 10 different rail networks or 10 different National Grids. Equally, we need to have one communications network for all businesses and houses equally that all providers contribute to and plan with a consensus. You’ll find that FTTP isn’t that expensive to roll out so long as the entire neighbourhood/postcode uses it. It’s only when one household that wants it that it’s expensive as there’s no guarantee the rest of the neighbourhood will use it. This is why I think the Fibre rollout should rollout an entire postcode each time and replace all the copper connections in the street in one fell swoop (and get rid of the copper and cabinets in the process).

In my area we went straight from very poor copper broadband to FTTP and the difference was so dramatic that I think that almost everyone made the switch when the vans were in the area. What I don’t understand is why our small isolated residential area surrounded by fields has been so fortunate. If the entertainment companies which profit from users with fast broadband services had contributed to the cost of their roll out, many more people could have a service fit for the 21st century by now.

Surely most Broadband providers are hampered by the copper wires and fibre which are not within their control. Our railway network franchises are able to claim compensation from network rail for delays. A similar system would be useful in the broadband network where providers can claim compensation for poor speeds achieved on the providers’ (usually Openreach’s) lines. Perhaps such a system might have some effect at the place which is really causing the problem.

Barry says:
8 October 2018

Too much focus on fibre.. We live in a rural area in Cornwall with 2Mbs on a good day and our local wireless internet provider is giving us 30mbs Guaranteed – no minimum or up to ,just consistent. No fibre provider is coming our way anytime soon, but Wildanet took the trouble.

Has anyone else used Wildanet?