UK broadband firms banned from advertising misleading speeds

Posted Nov 24, 2017 by James Walker
The UK's Advertising Standards Authority has announced broadband providers will be banned from advertising misleading speeds that are available to only a few users. Providers cannot use the phrase "up to" and must list generally representative speeds.
LAN cables are pictured on the Internet servers.
LAN cables are pictured on the Internet servers.
Denis Balibouse / Reuters
Under current regulations, broadband companies are allowed to specify "up to" speeds that are actually available to 10 percent of their customers. Because of the way broadband networks operate, each connection will have a different real-world speed. Many customers who purchase an "up to 50MB" service will never receive speeds close to the quoted figure, a concern which has been brought up repeatedly by broadband users and consumer rights groups.
The new laws clamp down on this practice, forcing providers to advertise speeds that are more broadly available to their customers. Speed claims made in ads must represent the "average" speed available, instead of an elusive "up to" number. At least 50 percent of customers must be able to access a connection which operates at the stated speed, making it much less likely that users will be misled.
The rules also introduce a peak hours requirement for the first time. Providers won't be allowed to abandon their speed claims at busy times. The advertised figures must be obtainable at all hours during the day. This is designed to further benefit the consumer and could eventually result in increased network investment.
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"There are a lot of factors that affect the broadband speed a customer is going to get in their own home; from technology to geography, to how a household uses broadband," said Shahriar Coupal, Director of the Committees of Advertising Practice. "Our new standards will give consumers a better understanding of the broadband speeds offered by different providers when deciding to switch providers."
The new legislation will become law in April. Providers are expected to continue advertising "up to" speeds right up until the deadline, so consumers can expect to keep seeing misleading ads through the holidays. Broadband news website ThinkBroadband told the BBC that advertised speed claims could fall by as much as 40 percent as a consequence of the rule change.
While the decision appears to favour consumers, there are concerns that people who are already suffering from poor connections could find themselves in an even worse situation. Because of the obligations on providers to advertise speeds available to all their customers, some might choose to refuse service to people likely to have a slow connection. This would stifle innovation, restrict consumer choice and leave people in remote areas even more isolated. There's not yet rules to cover when a provider can refuse a connection.