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Update: another win! ASA rules against BT broadband speed claims


The Advertising Standards Authority has issued rulings against three ads by BT for their broadband speed advertising, all of which claim to offer ‘the fastest fibre speeds as standard’. So have you tried testing your broadband’s speed?

The ASA said that these ads ‘would make consumers think that BT Infinity had a faster headline speed than any other provider‘. It ruled that the claims were not sufficiently substantiated and that those ads were misleading.

Here at Which?, we think that broadband companies get away with far too much in their adverts – so it’s welcome that the ASA has taken action here. We’d like to see it take advertisers to task more often, particularly on the use of ‘up to’ speeds in adverts for broadband.

Currently, adverts can make a claim with the prefix ‘up to’ to cover all manner of sins. Only 10% of customers actually need to be able to achieve those speeds in order for the claim to be made on the poster.

Broadband speed claims

Earlier this year the ASA finally agreed to look into ‘up to’ speed claims, but since then we’ve not heard anything from them. Hopefully this positive ruling will remind them that there’s still plenty to do clean up ads for broadband packages. We’ll be hearing from them shortly on how they plan to sort out the mess.

In August Vodafone announced an end to line rental fees, and TalkTalk will soon follow suit. This is partly a response to calls from the ASA to be more clear on pricing. Yes, the cost is probably absorbed into the single bill, but at least customers know what they’re paying up front, and the headline price is the price you’re eventually going to pay. This again shows that when the ASA are bold and take a stand, the broadband industry listens.

So come on ASA, go all the way and sort out ‘up to’ claims now. Customers need to know what they’re signing up for, and get the speeds that they think they’re paying for.

​Update: 17 November 2016

Today brings a great win for our broadband campaign as the ASA and Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) have finally agreed that ‘up to’ speed claims can mislead some consumers.

It’s been two years since we launched our campaign calling for a change to these advertising rules, so we’ve been pushing for this for quite some time. The ASA finally agreed to review these ‘up to’ speed claims and carried out its own research over the summer.

ASA, Chief Executive Guy Parker, said:

‘New research indicates that speed claims in ads contribute to consumers’ expectations of the broadband speeds they’ll receive, but their expectations are not being met. That needs to change.’

Commenting on today’s news, Which? Managing Director of Home & Legal services, Alex Neill, said:

‘This research proves what Which? has been saying for years. Advertised broadband speeds can be misleading and many people are unaware that they may never get the attractive high speeds on offer.’

But we’re not done yet on this campaign. The ASA will now run a short consultation on the alternatives to advertising speed claims and announce the new rules in spring 2017.

Do you know if you’re getting the broadband speed you’re paying for? Please use our Broadband Checker tool and report back in the comments if the speed is what you expected.

Jules says:
21 November 2016

I don’t need to do ANY test to know how awful my broadband is…the old dial up was marginally quicker…3 days to download anything and wanting to watch anything on line? Just forget it. It drops out several times a day and more…and I pay for this “service”. If I could get away with no internet..I really would say myself the cash but that is just impossible in these times.

Mr.Hempel says:
21 November 2016

We sign up for fiber broadband but it only goes to the nearest green box. How much longer do we have to wait before BT get rid of the copper wires from the green box to the pole to the house. We lose so much speed with copper wires. Wire fibre to the house now!!


And who pays the 10,s of £billions it will cost Mr.Hempel ? the tax payers ? , how about no Trident 2 , to late for the F35,s .


I’m lucky in that our green box is just across the road, so I get very good speed at some times of the day. But when the kids come home from school or when everyone is watching online tv it gets really slow.
So: a) I really do get my “up to ” 34Mbit at some times of every day.
And therefore b:) Its presumably not the link from house to green box that is causing the problem in the evenings, but the sharing of signals between the green box and the remote routers or the distant hosts themselves that cause the problems . They might not all be the responsibility of my ISP. Could it be another ISP or hosts such as BBC Iplayer or Netflix that cause the problem? In which case who should Which? be lobbying on our behalf?


Your right pdfisk , most people blame the line and in a lot of cases it is but dont take into account the number of users at different times of the day or weekend that does slow the speed down for everybody . They also dont take into account a not talked about problem –router congestion , yes too many people on it or too much data and it does slow down , add to that the computer itself carrying out many processes at the one time , and you have your internal wiring to take into consideration.


Why mark down an informative reply?


Perhaps they clicked on the wrong thumb and didn’t realise you can cancel a negative by hitting the positive thumb.


The numbers all attempting to use the same conduit (the contention ratio) for a given Broadband point is the big issue, now. And the big band-width hoggers are the likes of Netflix and other streaming services.


Quite true Ian.


Yes, people are blaming inadequate installed capacity for the low speed but really it is a case of excess demand. Streaming was not a major problem until a couple of years ago and it has caught on big time. Who is to pay for the capacity upgrade that will be required to ensure that other users who are not consuming much capacity can still get a reliable and adequate service? Or will it be necessary to restrict access to high capacity-using services by other means? At the moment it’s ‘first come – first served’, so if the kids next door are watching films or playing games but we want to do a Sainsbury’s order how is the conflict resolved?


I am not in favour of spending £billions of taxpayers’ money, while we have austerity, on upgrading broadband just so that people can watch films and play games, and the distribution companies can make fortunes, at the expense of business users and those who use the net for more essential matters. I agree John, there should be some way of restricting high-usage entertainment that reduces capacity.

Perhaps a charge on heavy users for how much is downloaded to help fund the upgrade?


There’s a further dimension that isn’t to do with broadband speeds but the consequences of having new entertainment channels. This is leading directly to a decline in the range and quality of content available to users of mainstream broadcast services through the exclusive ‘buying out’ of series, events, and programmes. This is why people are buying large smart TV’s so that they can watch or do what they want, exactly when they want to, accessed via their computer; they have made the investment and now they want the benefits, and there is nothing wrong with that but it has consequences for the rest of us.


I believe that the demands of those using broadband for entertainment purposes is essential to make progress. I am in favour of charges relating to usage so that heavy users contribute most towards development of the service, a point made by Malcolm.


I agree with that but there then needs to be some connexion between the income from heavier use of the system at the local level and investment in the local fibre network to ensure the demands of all users are properly met at the point of demand.