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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.


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If BT make a claim that cannot be supported then they should be taken to task.

I have a problem with the continual attack on an “up to” speed. It seems to me it does what it says – most subscribers to that particular service will get no more than the speed declared and can expect less. What perhaps needs to be made clear is that it does not mean every subscriber will, at some time, get the maximum speed but that a proportion of subscriber will achieve or (slightly) exceed it.

However, i am not interested on what 10%, 50% might get, or what people may get on average. i would like to know an estimate of what I should generally get at my house. From previous discussions it seems to be that by giving your prospective provider your phone number you can get better estimate of what your speed will be. That was the case for me and my speed is broadly as expected. If this is generally the case then why not publicise this?

@jmadden, Which? seem to criticise the current way of advertising speeds but seem unable or unwilling to come up with a sensible alternative. I may have missed it. What do Which? propose as a way of informing users about the broadband speed they might expect?

Normally we like to see transparency in pricing. I find it strange, therefore, that “hiding” the cost of renting a landline, as TalkTalk and Vodaphone do, is supported by Which? As far as I know, this is not “an end to line rental fees” but a way of disguising them. An end to line rental fees would mean, if honestly implemented, that bills would all reduce by around £17 a month. I don’t see that happening – is it? I pay greenbee a line rental fee, a charge for all day phone calls and a charge for broadband. I know exactly what I am paying for and it is all clearly shown. I’d like to see all costs disclosed.

I would like to see all the costs disclosed in my energy bill as well so I know where the money goes and am not misled. I guess many people think the bill just charges for energy, and do not realise that accounts for less than half their bill. There are transmission and distribution costs, supplier costs and at least 6 government levies and charges. Without such information it is not possible to have a proper discussion of some matters.

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duncan, I am asking Which? to propose a good way for the providers to give a sensible speed. It is OK to criticise, and I understand your point, but I’d like to see a positive proposal made that will move us forward. Can you suggest a way of doing it?

One director I worked with used a similar argument whenever people had the wrong end of the stick. “Well it is their perception” as if that justified an incorrect understanding and action should be taken even if on the wrong basis. They needed showing what the true situation was. False perceptions need addressing, not perpetuating, but this takes a little effort.

walter tacey says:
12 October 2016

I live in a rural area, more less between the end of two exchanges, one north, one south. The broadband speed is 0.25mbps most of the time, it is down a lot of the time, the buffering is intolerable, e-mail images cannot be sent and so on, as such it makes no difference which provider is used as they have to rent the BT line, so their big promises can never be fulfilled… Broadband is hopeless in the sticks and has caused much consternation for those who need it at home for their work.

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The other means are far more expensive to the consumer. It’s BT responsibility to maintain the network and future proof, we all pay the same line rental so should get the same service.
Fibre can run along existing telephone poles it doesn’t need to be buried, which is where the high cost comes in.
Broadband should be classed as a utility like gas, electric and water, an essential service.

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Walter, are you aware of BT’s Community Fibre Partnerships programme? This is a co-funded approach to people in parts of the country not covered by existing fibre rollout plans. BT has agreed with the government that their vouchers (as part of the DCMS’s Better Broadband Subsidy Scheme) can be used to help fund the upgrade for premises with speeds <2Mbps. Certainly worth you take a look I'd suggest: http://www.communityfibre.bt.com/resources/

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Hannah says:
12 October 2016

I am so glad that BT has been challenged over these claims. I had to challenge BT on their unlimited broadband claim when they proceeded to charge me for going over my package limit. I argued unlimited means unlimited.

glenn says:
12 October 2016

bt total wast of time and money bt has no loyalty to long time customers and if thay do give you some money back that slowly get it back on your next bills

I live in rural village, even though my exchange has been upgraded to fibre I’m still too far away. BT are my only provider. I’ve negotiated with BT to maintain 1.5mb but that’s taken 8 years!! There are no plans to increase that speed in the future.
I would like to see all providers advertise a minimum speed and then the government will find out how their proposal for a minimum of 10mb is not achievable in any future!!!!

Alun – have a look at my reply to Walter’s comment. May be suitable for you to explore.

My fastest broadband speed is 4.5 MB. However the actual download speed of data as measured on some websites which have the facility is between 150 and 275 KB, YES KB, and upload speed is 345KB. So much for 4.5 MB. I am informed there is no plan to upgrade my line to receive any faster speed. After all it is only 2016 AD. Brian.

Sie Evans says:
12 October 2016

I’m sick of providers claiming fibre optic speeds when all they are supplying is a copper connection. Granted VM provide coaxial which will always be faster than telephone wires. Virgin (and others) are also gradually supplying FTTH in rural areas but, if it’s over copper they should be banned from using the word ‘fibre’ anywhere in their ads.

M Glazier says:
12 October 2016

Speeds still not up dated in rural areas it’s a con. tn29 9rg village Brookland bt talk crap con us all the time

I work indirectly for VM, planning and implementing FTTH in a few areas. I would imagine the TN29 postcode will not be a priority (sadly)

Here is a link to the rulings that Jack mentions in his introduction: https://www.asa.org.uk/Rulings/Adjudications/2016/10/British-Telecommunications-plc/SHP_ADJ_347899.aspx#.V_6TjrS4lE4

It is interesting that the Advertising Standards Authority has responded to a single complaint, whereas some companies get away with making many thousands of nuisance calls before action is taken.

I am unclear about how quickly action must be taken following ASA rulings. Packets of Nurofen making the false claim that it targets certain types of pain are still on sale despite the ASA ruling in June.

My broadband is unreliable and the speed varies at lot. Have to reset the router most days.
BT know the problem and the cause but won’t replace 200mtrs of old aluminium cable.

Anthony Ingle

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Hi Anthony. I’ve read a few comments like yours on this thread – have a look at my reply to Walter’s comment as it could be worth your while to investigate this approach for you. Good luck!

I’ve no issue with the speed supplied,it’s the unreliability with the service dropping out regularly. I previously had issue over a period of 3 months with the service. Since then I’ve upgraded to fibre after talking to a very nice man who wasn’t from the Indian subcontinent, he even gave me his personal number in case I had any problems. Despite leaving messages I’ve had no reply. No wonder my BT shares have gone downhill. The trouble is all the providers use the same cable, so how can one be better than another. I have had numerous Openreach staff come to sort my problem out, but after trying various things the same issues exist. I even went to speak to one of them up the road and he was working in a hole in the footpath which was full of water and bundles of cable and we are surprised the service is crap.

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Hi Duncan, I’ve never been given a reason for my fault. I keep getting told the more things i have connected to my wifi the more unreliable it is, also that they don’t guarantee any wifi connection only a hard wired one from the router. Well I’ve now got a wired connection to my desktop and its just the same. As for the water and the hole, the cable joint was a large bundle with some kind of clip together fitting not shrink wrap. I’m just totally disiillusioned with the whole service.

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Hi again Duncan, thanks for that, hope I didn’t confuse over the name change it, it asked me to sign in again and I used the Facebook. I previously had the router directly connected to the socket behind the BT box. Since then I’ve had a new cable routed round the outside of the house from BT connection ( done by Openreach) So i’ve now got a new style connection with built in filter. As I say I’ve had numerous engineers call and I’m now on my 3rd router. Because they’ve not been able to pin anything on me for the fault I’ve not had to pay. I’ll probably give your suggestion about complaining a go, although I did have an email from BT a while explaining I could complain to some group if I wasn’t happy.
Watch this space.

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UP TO MEANS LESS THAN. up to speeds give the maximum speed possible, therefore customers should expect less than this speed. The capacity of a one pint beer glass is UP TO one pint. The customer will never have more than one pint, but will often have less.

There are some pubs that use line glasses, so that you get a pint of beer plus the head. I believe line glasses are used at CAMRA beer festivals.

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CE-marked brim measure glasses have been in use for years, but I believe that old ones with the crown could still be used. I am quite happy to ask for a pint to be topped up, and it’s necessary in some parts of the country. Some pubs have notices inviting customers to have their glasses to request top-ups and the guidance to pubs is that glasses should contain a minimum of 95% liquid.

Perhaps the beer glass analogy could be used to campaign to stop use of ‘up to’ marketing. Before my ISP stopped ‘using up’ to in its advertising I was getting the equivalent of less than a third of a pint.

I don’t spend much time in pubs these days but there was a time when I frequented a ‘local’ where some of the regulars had their own pewter jugs hanging up above the bar. I am sure some of them were over measure and would take 21 fluid ounces with careful pulling on the pump. The favoured few could sip a mouthful and request a top-up. I noticed that this rarely occurred in tenanted pubs where the guv’nor, seated on the customer side of the bar and purporting to be absorbed in the Morning Advertiser [the journal of the licensed trade], was observing the issue of every drop and drip. Perhaps it’s time to take a stroll down to the “Smartphone and Laptop” to see what it’s like in the local today.

My ISP received a lot of complaints about using ‘up to’ in its marketing, and I was among those who complained. They now give a minimum and maximum speed range and that seems to work fine.

Those who defend use of ‘up to’ deserve to have their pensions or salaries paid in this way. 🙂

I do hope that Which? is successful in getting ASA to stop the broadband industry from using ‘up to’ in its marketing. Maybe they could switch to LESS THAN, as mentioned by Nicholas.

I was informed by a salesman from VM that I would get 50Mbps (he didn’t say up to) so I signed up. I now find that the best speed is 26Mbps but most of the time its around 10Mbps. Its still 10x faster than my previous ISP but I agree with Nicholas and wavechange.

Kevin Garrington says:
13 October 2016

Speeds!…what about extortionate prices…..I am a loyal BT customer simply because if I have a problem then the line provider cant blame it on the ISP and vice versa. I don’t want to be stuck in the middle for days on end with one blaming the other. For the privilege of using BT I get stung every damn year with price increases and no ‘loyalty discount’. ALL new subscribers to BT however always get a better price than myself for a contract term. I am still under contract with BT just the same yet I get stiffed every year because of my loyalty to them. I approached Libby Barr, BT’s MD who looks after Broadband with this issue but they don’t bloody care

To add insult to this it looks like I’ll never get fibre to my property so I’m stuck with the copper ‘up to 8Mb’ forever…..and I pay the same price as if I had fibre……..got me by the short and curlies and they know it and they’ve just hiked their prices…….very unhappy and angry with BT but to move would probably cause me more problems so I end up having to pay through the nose for their ‘service’

“Those who defend use of ‘up to’ deserve to have their pensions or salaries paid in this way. “. As one of those, I don’t deserve that dismissive comment wavechange. 🙁

Where you can provide something accurately, whether it is a measure of beer, a quantity of eggs, a pond of sugar or a state pension then you are entitled to the full amount.

Many things in life cannot be predicted accurately. Your particular car’s mpg, for example, will depend upon how and where you drive it.

Where it is not possible to determine accurately what you might get like a broadband service – it depends upon, for example, your distance from the exchange, equipment, activity – then there seems no accurate way of predicting an individual subscribers speed. So rather than rubbishing what is done and said I want to see positive proposals as to how an individual could get a best assessment of the speed they might generally expect. A minimum and maximum might be one way, but that fails to tell me what I will get. As far as I know a reasonable way to establish the speed at my house is to ask the provider (potential) for a check by giving my phone number.

Does anyone have workable suggestions to getting a better declaration of broadband speed?

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A predicted speed range is a better declaration of broadband speed. At one time my ISP told me that I should be happy with a speed of 0.8 Mbps, a tenth of the ‘up to’ speed. That’s when I joined the campaign to get rid of ‘up to’ – and we won.

Why is it not a workable solution to use a predicted speed range?

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I’m now on fibre broadband but my ISP quoted 8.3Mbps – 12.3Mbps for copper broadband at my previous home and my speed was almost invariably at the lower end of that range. Some years ago I checked other houses, both nearby and different areas and the estimates were realistic. As you have pointed out regularly, the speed should be checked with a wired rather than wireless connection and internal wiring disconnected before making a complaint.

Maybe substitute ‘up to’ with ‘less than’.

“Why is it not a workable solution to use a predicted speed range?”. It will depend upon how big that range is. To be meaningful it needs to give an individual subscriber an idea of what they might achieve. A 0.5 to 8Mbps range for example would be pointless.

This is not a question of “winning” and, as far as L know, ASA have not yet determined what should be done. It is a question, in my view, of agreeing how an individual subscriber being given a sensible estimate of speed.

“Up to” is quite clear if you want it to be. But not helpful. Let’s work to find a sensible solution. Which? should be thinking this through. Have they a proposal?

Good man duncan 🙂

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I don’t recall how I came to read about this yesterday since this announcement from the ASA was not officially released until today, but in what I read yesterday there was an additional detail along the lines that the ASA [or service providers?] would need to consider and advise on what speed levels were needed to support different on-line activities as there was felt to be a demand for a much higher speed than was actually necessary in practice. I have accessed the 53-page independent Investigation Report via the ASA website and even from a quick skim it looks very interesting so I shall try to read it as soon as I can.

I’m interested in the speed I might expect to get at my premises, not some fudged average or other way of portraying something that seems hard to define. If there is a reliable way of a potential provider giving me a reasonable estimate of what I should expect, that is what I would like to see promoted.

However, this does not seem to be easy judging by the helpful information given on John Lewis’s website. Just what sensible and meaningful speed predictions could be advertised?

“* Broadband speed is described as ‘up to’ because your actual download speeds will vary. We’ll give you the best download speed available (up to 17Mb if you live in a high speed area) dependent on your location, phone line, home wiring and time of day. Because of these factors your speed may be higher or lower than up to 17Mb. We’ll provide you with a speed estimate when you check availability of our products. Find out why speeds vary.

* Fibre broadband speed is described as ‘up to’ because your actual download speeds will vary. We’ll give you the best download speed available on your line, with up to 76Mb download speed and 19.5Mb upload speed on Fibre Extra, and up to 38Mb download speed and 1.9Mb upload speed on Fibre. This is dependent on your location, phone line, home wiring and time of day. We’ll provide you with a speed estimate when you check availability of our products.”

Why might my speed be lower for the first 10 days of service?
Once your broadband is activated, tests will be run on your phone line. These find out the broadband speeds you’ve received in the last 10 days. From this, we’ll determine the fastest stable speed that your phone line can support.
You’ll see your speeds go up and down during this stabilisation period. You might even lose your broadband sync for a few seconds now and again if your line can’t handle the speed. Don’t worry, this is completely normal. After testing is complete, your speed may still vary from time to time, but this should be less noticeable than during the first 10 days of your service.
Why might my download speed vary?
Although the connection speed will be set during the 10-day testing period, the actual speed at which you can download will vary because of a number of factors. Your speed may be limited by the capacity of the server that you’re downloading from, or general congestion across the Internet. You may notice that the speed at which you can download is less than your connection speed if your phone exchange is busy, or has a lot of other broadband users connected to it.