ISPs will soon have to advertise based on average speeds

Adverts, by their nature, tend to offer the best case scenario. But while most rational people accept that switching brands of body spray won’t make them suddenly irresistible to friends, neighbors, and colleagues, superfast broadband adverts at least seem to offer something attainable: faster broadband. You may not find that’s the case: after all, broadband speed is hindered by plenty of different factors – some technical, some geographical – and the top speed is often only enjoyed by a precious few.

Well, after forcing broadband companies to include the price of landlines in their deals last year, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) will soon be tackling this problem. From next year, the ASA will make the same companies show advertised speeds that are attainable to at least half the company’s customers during peak times. That’s likely to provide a far more realistic picture of the service compared to what we have now, where companies are allowed to advertise based on speeds received by just 10% of customers.

The change was confirmed after consultation with the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), which in turn had consulted with Ofcom, ISPs, and consumer groups.

Digital minister Matt Hancock called the move a “victory for consumers,” saying “’m delighted to see that Cap is finally changing the way broadband speeds are advertised.

“Headline ‘up to’ speeds that only need to be available to 10% of consumers are incredibly misleading – customers need clear, concise and accurate information in order to make an informed choice.”

However, one other potentially confusing aspect of broadband adverts that wasn’t overturned was the use of the word “fiber” by companies that only use fiber up to the road-side phone cabinets. Even though these companies rely on copper connections to get into people’s homes, the ASA ruled this wasn’t misleading as most customers didn’t understand the difference anyway, viewing it as a “shorthand buzzword” for faster internet.

That’s a little disappointing, but in broad terms, this is indeed good news for consumers: adverts should be both simple and representative. On those terms, things should be a lot clearer this time next year, when you’re looking to switch providers.

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