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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.


Great victory ?? Dunno! The devil is always in the detail. It’s worth bearing in mind that all advertising is tendentious and propaganda. Its purpose is not to inform, or to educate or to give a balanced view. It is all about commercial greed, shareholder value and directors’ bonuses. At far the end of the line is the put-upon consumer. Perspective is always important.

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I think BT and the others will find that the ASA tells them how to advertise broadband speeds after they have consulted on possible options. As Wavechange says below, it will take some time but the wiser companies will reflect on how to position themselves for whatever emerges.

Here is a report that has been commissioned for the ASA

A variety of alternatives to ‘up to’ speeds are considered, but it will be months before any action is taken.

I started reading that report last night but unfortunately could not stay awake long enough to finish it. I was impressed by the methodology and the effort put in to discriminating between various attitudes and approaches. The well-researched examination of the problem accompanied by good analysis and deductions should help the ASA in making its policy and make their final determination more robust and beyond challenge. A model of regulatory practice.

Sorry that the link does not work but that sometimes happens with Which? Convo. At least the report is addressing the problem but it is disappointing that it refers to mb instead of Mbps. It is commendable that the authors have analysed public perception of a variety of statements.

I’m with virgin media their broadband ads are very misleading I signed up for 200mb fibre optic at the moment I’m getting 85mb they are ignoring me when I ask for help also I’ve heard them mute the phone to laugh over my connection speed!

About time! Been locked into contract with BT where they stated an up to speed which has NEVER happened or come near to because apparently our broadband line does not have the capacity for that speed in the first place! Which BT knew about when they sold us the package, we had no hope to reach the speed advertised, so locked into paying for a service we would never get – very disappointed with BT.

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I have used Virgin, Sky and BT – all very unsatisfactory. Please return telecomms to public ownership.

They all talk investment £6 billion etc but there is little evidence from the user perspective!

I will never ever get a decent speed unless I PAY for FTTP and for the rest of the street as well.
FTTC does not help when the cabinet is over half a mile away and over subscribed.
I own a house on what was a fill in road 50 years ago and no new cabinets were added.
What is even more depressing is that I can actually see the exchange from my drive.

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Fiona says:
21 November 2016

We’re on BT Infinity and our download isn’t too bad, although it’s way below the advertised speed. However, our upload speed is really appalling but when I asked them about it they said there was nothing they could do.

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As a loyal BT customer for many years, I fully understand that there are many issues as to why you don’t get the full advertised band width when signing up to a broadband package, but surely we should be paying a subscription that reflects the actual performance speed of our broadband not a possible speed! I have recently upgraded my package with BT and even though they advertise 17mbps the actual speed I am getting is nearer 6 to 9mbps and yes I did have it fully explained that we would only get a guaranteed 9mpbs if cabled into router! I pay the same subscription as a colleague at work who get the full 17 mbps, how is that fair!

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I live just outside London and currently BT are the only supplier and the speed is 17mbps on Infinity 1. I have complained to BT to no avail.

Now there is a company, Gigaclear, laying fibreoptic cable in the area. They claim if we hook up to their system we will have between 50 and 200 mbps depending on how much we pay for. The difference in set up is that the fibreoptic cable will come into our house rather than BT which is Fibreoptic to their cabinet then copper to your house. Copper being the slow carrier and the further you are from the cabinet the slower your speed.

I pray Gigaclear does what it says on the tin as it will free us up to many other broadband services. It will also be fantastic to be free of BT with whom I have had many frustrated conversations with over the decades.

I am with sky and I have been taken off the grid my phone and broadband has not worked and has been over a week and nothing off sky what so ever my broadband has been off for days and trying to get hold of them has been a nightmare the last time we had to do it while sum one talked us through it

I would like to see a public owned infrastructure for telecommunications and maintenance but with leasing to business on a 5 year term. This would then give public oversight of the service provision in your area, downtime remuneration and free up capital to upgrade. Choice is good, but when they all piggyback on the existing infrastructure we are doomed either way. We need a public driven push to overhaul the utility services throughout the UK. This itself does not come without need for both public and private sectors combining for the betterment of these sectors, but requires the vigilance and honorable actions of those we seek to caretaker our rights (Councillors and MP’s)

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Brian Williams says:
21 November 2016

My TalkTalk connection is constantly dropping out with no explanation given. There are occasions when a reliable provider is crucial.

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Acting on behalf of our parish, I finally tracked down the right BT person to tackle about the provision of superfast rural broadband. According to the available information, we were in the 5% not covered in the nationwide roll-out. It turned out that the websites were misleading and we (together with a neighbouring parish) will be included by the end of FY 17/18. I have an audio recording of these promises and am monitoring progress.

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Maggie says:
21 November 2016

Speed in my area is very low- as little as 0.5mbps at times. The Internet will reload several times while trying to download data as ‘a problem occurred.’ This is very frustrating when working on time sensitive documents

Terri says:
21 November 2016

I tested mine last night 20/11/16 download 70% slower than average
upload 85% slower than average not happy with talktalk

I have to say that I am one of the lucky ones. I live in a semi-urban area served for many years by Virgin (formerly NTL) and we have cabled broadband. The speed for the standard service was 30mbps later upgraded to 5ombps and recently the speed has been increased to 75mbps all at the same standard charge. The speed will vary slightly at heavy demand times and for a short period may be very low or non-existent if a fault occurs but these are rare and repaired quite quickly. Generally the speed, when tested using SpeedTest, averages 75 – infact a test just now at 4.30pm was 76.26 download speed and 5.11 upload. I am happy with this service.

I would say that the biggest issue I have is that people like bt are offering fibre optic, where in actual fact , only true fibre optic is only available through the likes of virgin media, fibre-to-the-cabinet, better known as FTTC is actually two completely different things. However a lot of consumers don’t realise that there is actually a difference between the two items.

Much of the report commissioned by the ASA focuses on how a relatively few surveyed thought of speeds as currently expressed and different presentations. One more popular one was a range, showing what 80% should get. However it was a wide range and not terribly helpful. One presentation was based on a minimum; the example presented gave a minimum of 60mb – indeed all the examples gave “mb”; perhaps the researchers did not understand the technology, which does not seem a good start. On the minimum example I think most people would be very happy with 60, so maybe the survey was a bit misleading?

I really don’t want to know an average, a minimum or what 80% will get; I want to know what I am likely to receive. This seemed to be in agreement with the test group. The report says:
Useful information and speed claims
It is clear that speed claims need to be relevant to consumers, helping to manage their expectations
regarding the speed they can personally expect to achieve. With this in mind there is strong appeal
for adverts to signpost to an independent online speed checker as a way to provide a tailored speed
check. There is also appetite for further information regarding factors that affect speed to be included as part of this website.”

The most valuable part of its 53 pages in my view. However it lacks technical commentary. Can you get a reliable speed check from a potential new provider before signing up? This, i would have thought, was all most people would need. adverts should certainly give the speed the service could provide, but direct subscribers to the means to find what their property should expect.

Brian Bond says:
21 November 2016

We were put on a trial for ultrafast broadband by BT 12 months ago. We did a speed check initially and since have heard nothing. Our internet connection is intermittent and slow. When I rang BT they new nothing of the trial.

BT state the average speed for my area is 5.6 and I am receiving 8.3 even though the web site suggests up to 17. I find it really annoying because independent web sites are quoting 3.5 when testing my post code. I’ve lost count of the times I lose connection. Shame on you BT