/ 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?

Doris McCall says:
23 November 2017

I live in a rural area and never get near the advertised speed but still have to pay the same price as those who get full speed.

Alan Campbell says:
23 November 2017

My biggest gripe with broadband speeds is that when you call the supplier about the speed, you get a whole spile about the amount of wireless devices used slows down the speed. If you are purchasing speed to your property at 38/76 speeds, EVERY devices used within that property should have that speed and NOT decided by that speed!!

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Come on Which … If you buy a pint you get a pint if you buy a gallon of petrol you get a gallon,……. etc etc etc So why is only 50% of the people who are promised something getting it a Win ? If you are offered £10 an hour and work 40hrs would you be happy to get say £250? Everything thats wrong with this country is we except “lies” .. The ASA ? How can the adverts pass as “truth” ? It just seems as if
Fraud by companies is ok … just not the working people.
Get real if you advertise 50MB thats what you are entitled to. And by the way everyone pays the same but if your at the end of long road you will not get the same product … this is wrong.
Yet again the Chancellor has comitted “our” money to 5G networks, for 20 yrs or more the Gov have used our money to make “superfast broadband” a reality….. they have bribed the Telecoms to install fibre etc .. So they “lie” and say they have achieved this ….(based on false data ) before asking for more money for the next stage, all the while increasing year on year the costs to us. And then delivering a substandard service
The whole thing is a scandal nothing more nothing less.
So for me this is not a success of any measure at all ( unless your a Telecom ….that is)

The advert is “you” (the area you live in) will expect to get “up to” a particular speed – 50 % will from next May. Some will get more, and some will get less. It is what “up to” means and a number of factors will decide what you, as an individual, get. That is what you sign up to.

Robert Mitchell says:
23 November 2017

I live on the outskirts of Edinburgh but it is classed as a “ rural area “ and some suppliers eg Sky cannot supply broadband and I am with Plusnet and the maximum speed I can get is 3 mbps because of the distance from the exchange and although fibre optic goes to the exchange it is not available in my area I think BT need to do their job especially as they also own Plusnet and EE who were my last broadband supplier they all use BT phone lines
eg will no

This comment was removed at the request of the user

This comment was removed at the request of the user

I’m an “up to 52mb/s” customer of BT. In fact I get about 32mb/s. I’ve sought better speed from BT but they say, ” our terms and conditions mean that speeds above 29mb/s are acceptable on our ‘up to 52mb/s’ service so no fault report can be accepted”. The reason I get only 32mb/s is that the line rate (the so called “downstream sync speed”) on my line is set to 35mb/s. That means I can NEVER get better than 35mb/s – the speed is being CHOKED BACK to 35mb/s. I’m clearly NEVER going to be within the 50% of people who get the promised speed of ‘up to 52mb/s. ANYONE ELSE HAD THE SAME EXPERIENCES??? Anyone got any suggestions as how to proceed???

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Mal – I should be interested to know what you cannot do at 32 Mbps and how that speed handicaps you in your personal life.

I think we can all appreciate the frustration and delays of those whose broadband speeds are crawling along in single figures but when speeds are up in the thirties it is difficult to imagine the problems this causes for normal life.

My guess is 300m.

In reality, the only time I run into problems is when we have a house full. Streaming TV plus two grandchildren plus daughter doing email on her laptop plus me on PC working on eBay. Happens once a week, all okay at other times as you imply. My issue is as much to do with saying up to 52mbps, and telling customers “you have to accept 30mbps because the small print says so”, as anything else.

Thanks, Mal . . . but didn’t Duncan advise you that being on Infinity 1 means you are getting the right speed for the service you are paying for? When you have a house full of internet users to some extent the problems are of your own making and under your control. If it regularly causes serious difficulties with important activities then an upgrade to Infinity 2 might be worth considering.

When a household uses a lot of broadband capacity simultaneously I wonder how their neighbours feel about it. There needs to be more slack in the system to ensure that there isn’t a big drop in speed when numerous people are on-line. To some extent the router will be the limiting factor protecting the wider area from an overload.

100% of all broadband users should get the top speed, not 50%.

All of the above posters who are not satisfied with their speeds, should simply terminate their contracts – after first finding an alternative Supplier and DEMAND compensation from their respective Supplier(s) for the utter failure of the previous Contract by their Supplier. We had BT back in late 80s, early 90s which was useless, changed to OneTel, then OneTel taken over by TalkTalk, with whom I had issues over rubbish Mobile phone supplies, so kicked them into touch and went back to BT – still rubbish, so changed to O2, great service, for a few years but then taken over by SKY (with whom I’d also had previous TV issues), so went back to BT, still utter rubbish, so changed to PlusNet, then one month later Plusnet taken over by BT!!! No problems so far but speeds way below advertised and will shortly kick them into touch. Trouble is no VIRGIN cables competition, to my ‘Village’, which I knew was going to happen when the original Cable Contracts were issued, by corrupt Govt back in early 90s, long before Virgin took over!! I live just 25 miles NW of London and might as well have lived in Timbucktoo or the Outer Hebrides for the disgraceful internet provision. This is finally a WIN for WHICH, as all Govts & their cosy Regulators have previously totally ignored ALL of our complaints!!! Now we should all be campaigning for PAYMENTS FOR SERVICES PROVIDED and where service isn’t good enough or far reduced and no choice to change, REDUCED CHARGES and REDUCED PROFITS & BONUS PAYMENTS FOR CORRUPT COMPANY EXECUTIVES!!!

Extremely welcome news though the ASA’s decision is, it only affects the advertising – it won’t make a per miilisecond’s difference to anyone’s broadband service. Ruth does not tell us what speed she is getting or whether or not it is adequate for her needs. Speed falling short of an advertised average value is not in itself a serious issue unless there are special requirements for which a minimum speed is essential, in which case a special service supply is probably the answer.

In most houses there is a cold water tank that supplies the water to all the cold taps except in the kitchen plus the toilets and all the hot taps throughout the house. If two or more taps are opened, a toilet is flushed, and a bath or shower is run then the flow rate will diminish. Broadband is just the same but over an area as well as within one building. Leaving aside the degradation of speed due to distance from the street cabinet and the type of cable to the premises, the available capacity has to be shared by all the people connected to that cabinet. If more people log on and start browsing and streaming then the capacity will be taken up and the speed will drop. It is totally impossible for any service provider to guarantee that a given minimum speed will always be supplied at any time of day given the unpredictable and variable demands placed on the network. The only way to get a guaranteed speed is to have a private circuit not shared with any other customer, but the price for that would be prohibitive even if you lived next door to the exchange.

I feel that much of the huff-&-puff on this subject is unrealistic and uninformed but the responsibility for that lies fairly and squarely with the service providers who have completely failed to market their services honestly and explain the limitations. I hope that will now improve.

I would like to ask why are landline prices are going up every year by broadband suppliers? How do they justify this. Cost of the use of landline should be cheaper.

BT has failed UK business. In 1998 I transferred my IT business to Estonia because of BT’s empty promises to provide Broadband to 4 miles north of Reading! The UK government should legislate for BT to give up its failed monopolistic role regarding the provision of Super Fast Broadband via a subsidiary firm BT Open Connect. Equally, interest free loans could be made to communities without super fast broad band for them to commission the immediate provision of Broadband using line of sight transmission towers or other simple and swift solutions. Interest payments should be paid for by a tax on BT’s profits. Any firm, or person, without fast broadband is unable to compete, or participate, in life in the 21st century. BT’s directors should be personally fined for their years of failure and the commercial consequences of their failures. The directors have no valid excuse for the damage they have caused the UK economy.

I get as little as less than 1mbs in deepest darkest Wirral. I can see the exchange from my roof and the nearest fibre connection is about 1.5 km away. Just changed from talktalk to john lewis and the speed generally plumetted…..had been getting tiwards end with talktalk. Ive gone from one poor service provider to another but im now paying only half what i did before. The whole process is tedious beyond the use of civilised words, trying to down load u tube diy videos is like watching a cinematic projection at 5 frames per second. Meantime we have a government locked into the vanity project which is hs2 which must be essential for mps on expense accounts getting to and from constituencies. When i was working with London based colleagues, they coukd nit understand why i had to share files piece meal rather than send them in one go, as they could with their very mbs rates because they were inside the magic circle that is the m 25. John lewis / plus net offer a cheap deal at £22…….it is absolutely rubbish…..you have to await the arruval of a bt engineer to connect you and then wait again if there is a bekated realisation you have signed up to a poor service and seek to improve iy by upgrading at a cost……all we need niw is some watch dog to go deaf dumb and blind to ensure that the providers do pretty much as they wish.
Bill tomo

This comment was removed at the request of the user

John Taylor says:
24 November 2017

I’m paying very hard come-by money to TalkTalk for fibre, CANNOT tell any difference. It IS time rip-offs were sorted.

Well done Which? for achieving the result that was needed, in the face of misleading broadband speeds. What this means to me is, that in the very near future, I can expect to see a marked improvement in speed in peak times, and also better WiFi coverage, the latter is more a prevailing issue because my connection is mobile wireless, as such this particular connection is static, it takes some effort to get a perfectly reasonable connection, Whereas, with an ethernet connection, this is dynamic, a more stable continuous connection, But even then this can slow up given the influx of heavy internet traffic on networks. Here also subscribers can expect an improvement in the delivery of service. Once again Which Campaign, I would like to take this opportunity, in conveying my thanks and congratulations, in your continued efforts fighting for a just cause, for the protection and benefits, of consumers rights.

Kind regards

Selwyn Lawrence

Hairyhatman says:
24 November 2017

It should be 100% of customers that get the advertised speeds.

Hi thanks for your feedback. The nature of technical issues that cause having 100% accuracy of broadband speeds to be incredibly difficult. As you may be aware, broadband speeds are not consistent and go up and down throughout the day. There are also a number of things in the home that can impact the speed a consumer gets. Things like where your router is positioned and even the device you are using. Our hope is that the new stricter advertising rules act as a greater incentive for providers to up their game and improve the speeds their customers get.

I would like Which? to push for service providers to focus on realistic estimated speed ranges rather than ‘up to’ speeds that few will achieve.

Alex – The service providers can only supply the maximum speed that the installed capacity will support. What is more likely, at least in the short term, is that advertising will reflect what at least 50% of their own customers actually get, and that could be a much lower speed than is currently advertised. The number of customers included in the reference group will also be a critical statistic.

How long it will take for the service providers to get Openreach to increase the available capacity is anyone’s guess. As service providers sign up more customers in a certain area their speed profile might drop [as more of their capacity is used up] and they will have to lower their advertised speeds. The same could occur if more of their existing customers add more devices in simultaneous use to their uptake, or use their devices for more high-demand activities. The reward for successfully signing up a lot more customers to Broadband could be a complaint to the ASA from existing customers over misrepresentation! The target will never stop moving and it is not clear how the advertising will ever be effectively monitored and held in compliance with the new ruling.

A point that has not been explored is what the catchment area for an advertised speed is. Is it just those customers whose lines are fed from the same cabinet, or over a wide area like a postcode, or even a whole town? And is the 20:00 – 22:00 period necessarily the peak period in all locations?

Trying to pin down a dynamic situation with a static policy will not be the end of the controversy.

I wonder just how much effect rapidly growing numbers of smart tvs have on the system capacity and speed. I don’t have one (but we do have an Apple tv box that we occasionally use) but I presume their main use will be to download programmes that have been missed, or films from a library. While I think it a shame that continuous entertainment that keeps people on their sofa (instead of doing something more constructive 🙁 ) is a sad development, it is clearly here to stay.

The providers of this entertainment – and by extension, those who use the service – should pay towards the expansion of the broadband facilities needed to feed their service, and to support others whose service consequently declines. Maybe Which? could think about how charges could be levied and campaign for the support needed to bring them about?

We use our Apple TVs purely for controlling our media server. Never stream stuff, really, but almost everything we want is already stored on several HDs in the study, so we can access them through the Apple.

One big advantage is that we also have Carols from Kings going back several years and in HD. We play one a night leading up to xmas Eve.

Chris Bullen says:
24 November 2017

I’m getting 9mb according to speedtest. However I have a 3rd World service (only available a couple of times a day) Problem seems to be yahoo not loading. What do we do about that? Bt services come at a cost though, they say they can come round and check your connections but at £129 if it’s not their fault, feels like punishment, when all you want to do is eliminate a possibility for sure.

no providers give what they claim it is varied as to the demand in your area and the distance to the exchange from where it is connected to but to be honest they should delivery on what they are charging you for so if they say you will get 50mbs then that’s what you should get when you go online if they say 100mbs then that’s what you should get not upto that amount which is the term they use to get away with and the watchdog hasn’t gone far enough as 50% is not totally inclusive because the companies will say now 50% are getting so the other 50% will lose out so who will lose out there is no way of monitoring this properly

I go to Tescos and buy a bag of 10 apples, I don’t expect find only 2 in it. That’s the quality of my “Broadband” 1/5 of advertised speed (at best). Pay for what you get.

We need to see a much stricter QOS implemented. Permanently.
After the last knock from uk gov. BT stepped up their game and I went from less than 50% of the top end of my plan to around 85% most of the time, with I’d say three or maybe four times in a month where it will drop like a stone, and often I’d have to reboot my home hub. I’ve never had 100%. Ever. I test it most days ..

Really fed up with problems with internet if an engineer comes out and fix’s it is normally good for about a week then someone else closer to the exchange in village has a problem engineer fixes their’s and immediately makes ours worse seem they can’t check and double check what they are doing to give quality service leading to more call out’s and costing loads more money which no doubt in the end customer pays for.

GRAHAM says:
24 November 2017

I am with BT. Iwas sold my package on the understanding i would get up to 19mbs. i aactually receive 0.6 mbs. the infrastructure is very old and needs updating but because i live in a rural area BT. WILL NOT EVEN CONSIDER DOING IT.it’s time that they were held to account for miss selling packages .I have tried all available avenues to try and resolve the problems even contacting Gavin Patterson directly but all to no avail shame on BT.