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Update: the ASA needs to shake-up broadband speed advertising


We’ve looked at 6,542 broadband ads in print and newspapers since 2008 to see how many are using ‘up to’ speed claims to draw in customers…

As you’ll know we’ve been campaigning to get the advertising rules changed so that broadband providers can only advertise speeds the majority of customers can get. However, the advertising regulator has previously said that the use of ‘up to’ speed is on the decline.

Our latest research demonstrates that this simply isn’t the case.

In 2012, one in ten print ads included ‘up to’ speed claims. However, between April 2015 and March 2016 this has rocketed to 68% of print ads. And in some months it rose to as much as 80%! Check out the rise in this infographic:

Broadband speed matters

Thanks to pressure from more than 100,000 campaign supporters, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today announced that it will research consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims made in ads.

And we know that broadband speeds matter to many of you. In fact, nine in ten of you told us it’s an important factor when choosing your broadband provider. Yet, under the current rules, providers only have to demonstrate that 10% of their customers will achieve the advertised speed for it to be deemed compliant. That means many of us will never be able to achieve the promised speeds.

The government agrees with us

In support of our broadband speed campaign, the Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said:

‘The way broadband speeds are advertised can be misleading and I want to see more clarity to help consumers choose between providers.

‘UK consumers enjoy some of the best coverage and cheapest broadband prices in Europe, but it’s not right for internet service providers to advertise speeds that are only available to a minority of their customers.’

We agree. Last month the ASA announced that it was making the rules tougher on how prices were advertised to avoid customers being misled. This is a very welcome move, but it now needs to stop companies advertising speeds they can’t always deliver.

Carrying out consumer research is a step in that direction, but with 15.4 million homes unable to get the speeds they were initially promised, the rules need to be changed. And quickly.

Have you chosen a broadband package based on an advertised speed – then found you can’t achieve it?

Update 9 August 2016 – Vodafone scraps line rental charge

Vodafone has announced today that it will be scrapping separate line rental charges for new and upgrading home broadband customers.

Some experts have suggested that rather than a complete scrapping the the charge, line rental will instead be absorbed into a single package price. This comes following the Advertising Standards Authority’s call for broadband providers to clearly advertise cost per month charges that include line rental charges.

New and upgrading Vodafone customers who take out an 18-month contract will no longer be billed the current additional £18 charge, but instead be offered single package price starting at £22. Customers will still receive a landline connection and phone number.

With Vodafone being the first provider to make the move to simplify broadband charges it would be interesting to see how other providers proceed.

Stan says:
31 August 2016

Downloading BTs speed test sets out the requirements for a test which include switching off all mobile devices, and using an Ethernet cable between IMac and hub. Hardly realistic.


Stan it is realistic , that test is there to save you money if you call out the engineer and the fault is yours not BT,s . It is a real test of the speed of your Internet connection as opposed to wi-fi which can be half the speed of the Ethernet cable , I can go into the technical reasons why if you want . Also it should be plugged into the master socket and all internal wiring removed by opening the master socket faceplate and unplugging it then plugging in your Ethernet cable directly to the outgoing cable . You say its “unrealistic ” , so you want high speed with various devices all plugged in as well as other broadband users in the family ? okay then pay for a higher speed bundle from your ISP but when you complain of slow speed that doesnt mean with all attachments but the speed when one device ( your computer ) is attached to it by an Ethernet cable .

Carole B says:
1 September 2016

I live well within London area on relatively new estate (4 yrs old): our broadband speed is ridiculously slow and BT say that there are no plans to change this in future but that we can contribute financially to change situation!!!! A few yards down the road, neighbours have very fast connection – I’m fuming!!


Carole-When a new housing estate is opened up private telephone companies are given the opportunity to contribute to the costs of providing cable into the new houses most refuse.This leaves BT with the full cost of installation but also removes the legal obligation of BT providing access to those houses on the estate to private companies -IE-be the same as Virgin Media . BT have surveyed nationwide which street cabinets should be up graded to FTTC usually going by demand/population . In a new housing estate the cabinet is usually an isolated one with little demand on it , that is until some housing entrepreneur decides to buy the land and put houses on it , then the population (of that area increases but not enough to justify FTTC ) . This is due to priorities of the grants supplied by HMG to BT . I seem to be never ending in my comment that HMG will NOT provide the many £10,s Billions to cover the UK and EVERY other private telephone company didnt want to know as they were NOT willing to provide to areas where they didnt make big profits. So you are left with the situation of being the same position as if you lived in a rural area. But as BT has said , if you all get together you can pay for fibre to be put in, government grants could be available.


To add views from the other side (surely worthwhile in any discussion whether we agree with them or not) this is what the ASA say on their website. It would surely be useful if they had constructive discussions with the “one organisation” referred to. Maybe Which? is taking part. They should not be operating behind barricades – that bedevils sensible outcomes as we see from the doctors, Southern Railway and countless other disputers.

“Broadband speed is back on the agenda, with debate about whether BT has under-invested in Openreach. But where there’s talk of the UK’s broadband infrastructure, there’s often talk of broadband advertising. And in particular, broadband speed claims that appear in ads and on companies’ own websites.

What’s the background?
Current guidance, published in 2012 following a public consultation, states that speed claims must be:
• Robust and relevant to the audience targeted by the ad
• Preceded with an “up to” qualifier and
• Clear that speeds vary significantly dependent on the user’s distance from the exchange (ADSL2+ services only).

Here’s some good news: since the guidance was issued, we’ve seen a 60% drop in complaints about broadband speed advertising. We acknowledge that over that period many broadband providers have chosen to differentiate their services through price, reliability or customer service, at least in ads targeting a mass audience. The reduction in complaints is welcome, but it’s not proof our approach is set in the right place.

So where are we now?
We want to be sure consumers are protected. We know our approach doesn’t have the confidence of some politicians and stakeholders, who believe that the minimum 10% of users hitting the maximum “up to” qualified speed that the approach allows is set too low. Such has been the focus on those requirements of the guidance, there’s a danger of losing sight of the only question that matters:

Do advertised broadband speed claims that stick to our approach mislead consumers?

One organisation arguing for change has carried out its own research on the advertising of broadband speeds, but it hasn’t tried to answer that question. Nevertheless, it’s not alone amongst stakeholders and politicians who think the answer is “yes: consumers are being misled”.

We’ve listened carefully to them and we’re putting it to the test ourselves. Their concerns and the absence of a good evidence-base are why we’re currently undertaking public research that gets right to the heart of the matter.

The study we’ve commissioned – and which is underway – is presenting consumers with ads that are ok under our current approach, inviting them to comment and analysing whether they’re misled. We’ll publish the findings in the autumn. And if the study suggests consumers are being misled, we’ll act on the findings.

We’ve undertaken extensive work this year tightening up on broadband pricing claims in ads. Given the prevalence and prominence of pricing claims in broadband ads, we think that will bring big benefits to consumers. Now we’re looking in earnest at broadband speed claims. We’ll be making sure we base any action on a sound evidence-base.”


Sadly, the UK’s ISPs are complacent and (largely) clueless. They’re raking in outrageous amounts for a very sub-standard service. Most of them are simply re-selling BT’s abysmal offerings at a mark-up. The much-vaunted “fibre internet” is nothing of the sort. It’s still the rotting twisted-pair from your house to the street-end cabinet, or ratty old TV coax if you have the misfortune to be connected to Virgin. There MAY be fibre to the cabinet, but the limitations of the final leg to your home mean that the advantages of fibre distribution are really not seen.

The only answer is to for the ISPs to provide REAL “fibre internet” – actual fibre to a terminator in your house. The hardware is relatively cheap these days (often cheaper than the dreadful VDSL modems that are “state of the art” at the moment). Every house in the UK could have 1Gb/s real internet connections at relatively little cost. The poor Windoze user would find that it was like trying to drink from a fire hose, but Mac and Linux users would be able to make full use of the speed.

I get 800Mb/s down, 260Mb/s up for $8 per month in my place in Singapore. Most of that charge is for email hosting and spam filtering. The actual connection charge is minimal! I also get over 200Mb/s down in rural France – better than is available anywhere in the UK!

There is no actual will to do anything better in this country – the ISPs are stupid, rich and complacent. There’s no way to change this except by Act of Parliament, and the corrupt members in Westminster are in the pay of the ISPs and other big businesses, so aren’t interested in making anything better.


Most people use wireless connections but speeds advertised are for a wired connection – we all know they don’t even match up to the advertised speeds. My broadband also frequently drops its connection completely when using wireless but Virgin Media techs say there isn’t a problem with the broadband and it could be my equipment – but they supply that equipment!! Not only was I initially led astray by advertised speeds but I also now get off-loaded when complaining about dropped connections.
It’s time the whole business was investigated, never mind advertised broadband speeds.


Ralfe- when a BT engineer comes to your house he doesnt use wi-fi to test your broadband he uses a direct connection usually a special test meter WIRED /PLUGGED into your Master socket . Wi-fi ,as you said, is only half the speed of a Ethernet cable and wi-fi is affected by the thickness of your walls /by the number of users etc. In your case its a Virgin Media engineer who would call , I suspect they would use the same test apparatus . No ISP on this earth is going to guarantee your speed within a narrow margin as there are too many domestic variations to content with , and please be aware , after all the shouting and bawling if it turns out to be your fault (internal wiring etc ) then you will be hit with a big call-out charge . BT will change their HH5/6 if it is faulty – free of charge but they have proved , after a hiccup, to be very reliable .

RALFE says:
2 September 2016

duncan lucas,
You’re missing the point. You say, ‘No ISP on this earth is going to guarantee your speed within a narrow margin as there are too many domestic variations to content with’. If that is the case then why are they allowed to advertise so prominently in their favour?
Hasn’t VW just been pulled for advertising favourable exhaust emissions and fuel savings, only to find they can only be attained in special circumstances in a perfect environment. Ergo, BT, Virgin and the rest with their optimistic advertising.


I wouldnt argue that point Ralfe.

Porlains says:
5 September 2016

I would argue that point
Good arguing ralfe
they should give you better internet. I get better 4g connection than wifi on my iPhone and I love the taste of raspberries
All gmail need to do is take a digger to the cook Islands and make a pre order for the new modern ward are game or something. Who knows but my internet is t as good as it should be wired or wireless it’s pants. Absolute pants

[This comment has been edited to align with our Community Guidelines. Thanks, mods]


I am trying to understand the reasoning of Porlains comment probably as I dont understand the wording apart from -they should give you better Internet which should apply to many things in life we complain about but its obvious that Porlains hasnt read Which,s multiple Convo,s on subjects relating to this over the years and would then have posted a more informed and reasoned opinion . I take it the comment “pants ” being an “Americanism ” as the original English meaning of the word is trousers means something in a derogatory fashion in the US but I have never heard any Englishman or for that matter Scots/Welsh /Irish use that word other than referring to underpants, they usually say–underpants, so I am lost for an intelligent reply to this post.


To say something “is pants” is a common derogatory expression from the last ten years that has largely fallen into disuse now, such is the pace of change in popular argot. I believe it was primarily UK English and its perceived offensive connotations were indeed associated with underwear. The American English word ‘pants’ always refers to trousers or slacks [i.e. outer garments], the words ‘underpants’ for males and ‘panties’ for females being used in the USA to refer to undergarments.


‘Pants’ means ‘rubbish’ or terrible as far as I know. So if something is ‘absolute pants’, it’s ‘absolutely terrible’.

Anyway, here’s just a friendly reminder to be friendly to one another 🙂


Patrick-So in other words, like many I have come across on multiple websites he is acting like a Troll . I expect that on the many controversial websites I have posted on and replied in a manner questioning their IQ level etc. I expected more from Which , which,as other regular posters keep reminding us is of a higher intellectual standard than other websites of the same type worldwide . I could reply in kind but that would mean lowering my standards as applied to Which, which at the moment has a high standard of intellect. I have absolutely no problem with those with limited schooling , even swearing , anger etc but I have zero tolerance for Trolls and didnt think they existed here on Which. I will of coarse lower my expectations of Which.


You forget, Duncan: this site is open to all, not simply Which? members.


Hi @duncan-lucas, I think that’s a little unfair. We always like to give new commenters the benefit of the doubt, and offer them a warning like the one I’ve given. We’ve also slightly edited the comment as it did not fully align with our community guidlines: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/. Often a friendly word is all that’s needed, so I’d like to leave it with that for now.

Hopefully now we can all move back to talking about broadband.


The ‘pants’ expression might be 19th C and originated in the US:

[h=3]P1. U.S. colloq. (a person’s) name is pants and variants: indicating that someone is discredited or unpopular, or has failed. Now rare.[/h]

1886 College Courier (Monmouth, Illinois) Jan. 15/2 O! dignity, thy name is pants when thou essayist to hold a candle to the Coup.

1893 Puck (N.Y.) 12 July 324/2 When things don’t come a man’s way right off he gits to thinkin’ his name is pants.

1921 Hamburg (Iowa) Reporter 9 June, We will never be able to play another ball game and our name will be ‘pants’ from this day on for ever more.

1931 Moberly (Missouri) Monitor-Index14 Oct. 7/5 Farmer’s prayer… O Mighty Hoover, who are in Washington, when not fishing on the Rapidan. Thy name is pants.


Ian you know thats not the point I stated above . I have no problem with real democracy as I have spent years fighting for it but if somebody can only express themselves in the language of a Troll without backing up what they say with a constructive opinion then this website will be full of Trolls shortly.


I will say no more on the subject Patrick but watch with interest to see what occurs.

dieseltaylor says:
5 September 2016

So that we can have more fun with pants I found this : )

“So, you might have heard of the internet meme some time ago, where you replace a word in a movie quote with the word “pants”. My favorite examples are from Star Wars (“I find your lack of pants disturbing”) and Lord of the Rings (“Gondor has no pants. Gondor needs no pants.”) It is hilarious and giggly and allows us all to be twelve for a while.

The other night, I played a new version of the game, which I’m calling Shakespeare’s Pants.
My favorites that I can remember (please forgive any errors in original quotes):

Give me your pants, if we be friends.
We are such stuff as pants are made on. (Alternate: We are such pants as dreams are made on.)
Pants delight not me: no, nor skirts neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.
If our trousers have offended, think but this, and pants are mended…
Know that Macduff was from his mother’s pants untimely ripped. “

dieseltaylor says:
5 September 2016

“Which? exists to make individuals as powerful as the pants they have to deal with in their daily lives”

Incidentally I still think its a rubbish mission statement possibly even pants. Preference –
” Which?; to make individuals powerful.”
more precisely it is the Consumers’ Association; which owns the magazine .

dieseltaylor says:
5 September 2016

While Ian has quoted the usage as to why it might be derogatory may be back to Shakespeares time. Pantalone [Pantaloon in English] was not a nice man.

” None of Pantalone’s physical actions should look easy, for his is truly “the oldest of the old.” In the well-known “all the world’s a stage” speech in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (II, vii), Jaques describes the second-last stage of life as “the lean and slippered pantaloon.”
Because of his skinny legs, Pantalone is portrayed wearing trousers rather than knee-breeches (which Jaques refers to as “his youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide/For his shrunk shank”). He therefore became the origin of the name of a type of trouser called “pantaloons,” which was later shortened to “pants.”[3]”


Thank you, Ian, for the historical references proving ‘pants’ to be a longstanding insult. Of course, the American idiom would have exclusively referred to trousers. The recent British usage is most definitely related to underwear.


Maybe the mission statement could be “liar, liar, pants on fire” (anon) as some topics seem to head in that direction. If it were true, it would sift out a lot of politicians in a very visible (and noisy) way.
In an effort to stay on topic maybe this is an award the ASA could make whenever they reject an advert – just as an example, broadband speed – for not meeting the “honest and truthful” requirement.


Do hope this is what Patrick meant when he lauded the occasional ‘interesting and humorous’ diversions… 🙂


I hope so Ian. I thought Malcolm’s suggestion was absolutely fabulous.




The Advertising Standards Authority have said:
“The study we’ve commissioned – and which is underway – is presenting consumers with ads that are ok under our current approach, inviting them to comment and analysing whether they’re misled. We’ll publish the findings in the autumn. And if the study suggests consumers are being misled, we’ll act on the findings.”
It will be interesting to see what the results are. Will Which? keep in touch with the ASA so we can see the outcome? Might form the subject of another Convo.


I look forward to a Convo on advertising on TV with great relish as I have a lot to say on the subject malcolm and how about one on North Yorkshire hospitals where they are going to be overweight and smoking patients banned from routine operations and other regions are taking an interest . Add to that the proposal of making receptionists at doctors surgeries do simple medical tests . You do know this is creeping full privatisation of the NHS but never fear maybe some of the money made by the revelation that the the UK is now -5-9-2016 -the number 2 world arms dealer could be given to the NHS as doctors and staff are blaming financial cut-backs for causing this and prioritizing where the money is spent . Its the old propaganda= the government cant afford it , only BB can help by taking over full control of the NHS.


duncan, may I point out this Convo is about broadband, and although I hold my hand up to occasionally going off topic (yes, really 🙂 ) I am trying to work out the link between your topic and this Convo’s subject.