/ 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?


It is far more sensible to give people a better idea of what speed they should expect. However, 50% of people presumably will not get the “advertised” speed and this seems part of the problem of how do you advertise something that has a number of variables – copper, fibre, distance from exchange, quality of your internal equipment, time of day, number of users in your household……. I don’t see a magic solution, no more than estimating how long it will take to drive to work in the rush hour.

How will people get redress? Will your speed be measured for a reasonable length of time, direct from your master socket to exclude your own connection and devices? Do you know if you are among the 50% who are nominated to get the advertised speed? Or will surveys have to be made of all subscribers in an area to determine whether 50% is, or is not, met? I am asking naive questions because I have no knowledge as to how this will be seen to work.

Other Convos have pointed out that a provider can give you an estimated speed for your own premises. It seems far more sensible, to me, to have a scheme whereby your own speed is determined, and you can decide whether that is adequate or whether you might upgrade if that is an option. It is the speed I get that matters to me, not what 50% of people might get.

Of course I’d agree broadband is very desirable (using “essential” is an inflated description when other things really are essential – food, water, energy, healthcare etc). However I think we have to be sensible about what speed we regard as the minimum required. I do not regard it as in any way “essential” to be able to download films quickly.

“Will this lead to better broadband?” is the introductory question. “Not necessarily” is the answer.

It might lead to a clearer understanding of the likely speed but in cases where it is already a high speed there is unlikely to be an improvement and where the speed is poor the service will not get better until additional capacity is installed. Rearranging the promotional guff will not change much at the master socket.

I am surprised at the narrow time band for determining ‘peak’ time. I thought 8 pm was a mistake for 8 am. I think peak time starts at around 4:30 pm – that’s certainly when congestion starts to occur.

Overall we have good speeds. I have never checked what they are because they are always more than adequate. We are happy with our broadband provider, BT, but while not wanting a better service think the service we get should be cheaper.

I agree with Malcolm’s point about “essential” and find the failure to tackle the unplanned overload of the network with high-demand streaming and bloated content [and the failure to capture a contribution from that for capacity improvements] extremely disappointing.

Paul Rotherham says:
23 November 2017

What I would like to see is a steady reliable speed not one that tells you your getting 5.6 mbt only when you go to play a video clip and all you get is the cog wheel going round, then when you try to do a speed test nothing registers and the speed test wont work. This is using BT.

Your payment for broadband should be commensurate with what the supplier supplies you. The charge should be pro rata, e.g. if you only get half the speed that they quote and have the gall to charge you for, then you should only legally have to pay half the charge. Proof would be easy to supply. What chance of success with this?

I agree, this is what the ASA should be aiming at, The providers will do nothing unless their income and profits are affected.

I fully agree with your comment I have a connection from the distribution box which is just over a mile away with a very poor connection and dropouts on a regular basis, BT tells me that if I go to fibre I will get superfast connection all the time, my comment to them is the only thing that you are going to do is change the connections at the distribution box and I’m still going to be on copper cable for the mile I’m away from the distribution box so there will be a drop-down in speed and they said there will be no drop down in speed of the length of the copper cable to your property, typical sales talk.

Roger Daniels says:
23 November 2017

If they said there will no drop in speed over a mile from the cabinet that is a lie, not sales talk.

BT moved our phone socket into our house when they connected us up for fibre & at first it would not work – it is now in a place that a BT technical problem solver says is COMPLETELY wrong to get good speeds – by a large nearly to the floor window, next to the phone & my mum’s personal alarm box – with no way of moving the hub without spending a fortune on longer wires & laying those across doorways. They have refused to help! Something needs to be done to make these companies recognise we are all paying individual bills & should only be paying a fair price for whatever we individually receive!

We had to buy extension cables for our hub. The broadband/phone connection is by a window and the hub needs to be sited in the middle of the house (ours is a large stone property) in order for the signal to be adequate. By using long extension cables (not expensive or difficult to organise, if a bit messy) and extra repeaters, we get an excellent signal throughout the house. We now get at least the advertised speed after years of totally inadequate service.

It’s a start, but 50 per cent still not getting a good speed is obviously not nearly good enough. Much more needs to be done.

Ian L says:
23 November 2017

Now press on with fibre to the home and not just fibre to the nearest cabinet as with Sky and others.

Should be made to advertise minimum speeds, not maximum rubbish.

I’ve been saying for ages that we should pay for the speed that we actually get pro rata. That should be an incentive for the ISPs to buck up their ideas and provide a decent service. The watchdog and ASA are both too soft, I often wonder where their allegiance really lies.

Chris Smith says:
23 November 2017

The advertising change makes no difference for me, because my speed is 3.5mbps and, therefore, advertised speeds are completely irrelevant. I live in a rural area, which a scheme called Fastershire is supposed to be upgrading to civilised broadband speeds, but there is no sign of much happening where I live. What needs to be done is to provide a 21st century broadband infrastructure nationwide.

Gerry says:
23 November 2017

Almost all of the so-called regulators and watchdogs are just sweetheart organisations, so it’s good that some progress has finally been made, even if the ISPs are being allowed to bamboozle us for another six months.

But it’s very disappointing that services delivered via copper can still be passed off as ‘fibre’. If it’s not fibre entering your property, it’s not fibre !

Fed up with slow speeds when I am paying for higher ones. How many other industries could get away with charging you for a product that not as advertised and not fit for purpose. I agree with other contributor that you should be charged according to the average speed you can get.

Whilst this is a definite step in the right direction, well done so far Which, et al.
This still means that half of the Broadband Provider’s customers are not getting the the full service thats being sold to them.
With no mention of just how bad that speed actually is for the remaining half. It’s STILL A CON.
I think they should also mention the slowness of bottom 5% of customers eg 20MB/s to 1.1MB/s
Both stats should be quotes at peak usage rates so it will take into account the contention Ratio the customer is having to put up with as well. Otherwise the provides (open reach)’s Marketing, will just cook the figures yet again.
High broadband speed with high contention ratios = slow broadband service.

John Davies says:
23 November 2017

Bt think that connecting fibre to the exchange is sufficiently adequate and this seems to fulfil their obligations with installing super fast connectivity. Until fibre is installed to every household we will not get the service which has been promised to us for years now. there are still no websites to look at the percentage of connected customers with fibre enabled to their homes and no where to find out when it will be installed or scheduled to be installed. until these things are implemented I do not think we are any further forward in our desire for super fast connectivity.

50% of the UK is great news But As we live in wales slow broadband speed is still the norm that is throughout wales (except for the big cities of course) Which should push the broadband providers to improve the speed in Wales. Even mobile phone signals in most area is non existent and SAT NAV in this day and age should not have blind spots. One other good bit of news is energy providers keep asking us to install smart meters well no mobile phone signal means no smart meters.

Allan says:
23 November 2017

Re smart meters……. Avoid!!!

Dougie says:
23 November 2017

I personally think that BT need to change all their lines. My home for one has never been changed in the 27 years I’ve been there Nd my bb is slow …annoying inflated prices for a terrible service …not happy

I am so grateful to Which for fighting this problem . May I suggest that if someone only gets ie 50% of the advertised figure then the customer only pays 50% of the charge for the service, this should wake up BT and they will quickly get some thing done about it. I have a friend who only gets 0.5 of the advertised speed.

50% of people getting the advertised speed is a good start…but it should be at least 80%!

Edward Synge says:
23 November 2017

As a first step I would be happier if speed had not deteriorated so dramatically since I put in BT broadband in 2007.
The fact that last time I tried to call BT a year ago I gave up after calling on and off for two days!

Jeff H says:
23 November 2017

When testing I was asked by BT to use their BT Broadband speedchecker. This showed 66.7 Mbs, however using the Which speed checker, this shows 42.4 Mbs only. Are BT trying to hoodwink me ???