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Just when we thought things were looking up for rural customers suffering from low speeds and poor service with the Government’s 10Mbps USO plans, it looks like a spanner has been thrown into the works by Sky Broadband’s new advertising approach.

It was recently reported by ISPReview.co.uk that Sky Broadband has changed their Internet access packages and will no longer sell broadband (of any type) to customers unable to support a Minimum Access Line Speed (MALS) of 2Mbps.

Why? Well, this news follows recent changes to the providers’ advertising approach where they now promote average speeds as opposed to the more prevalent ‘up to’ speed approach used by the majority of the industry (including Sky previously).

Back in 2012 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) introduced new advertising guidelines that required providers to advertise headline broadband speeds based on the speeds actually achievable by at least 10% of their customer base. At the time we argued that this would create an unfair bias within the industry to the detriment of smaller providers with much smaller customer bases to calculate average speeds from, especially if they catered for predominantly rural/low speed areas. We even warned that it could lead to some providers ‘cherry picking’ which customers they wanted to supply and refusing those that would negatively affect their average speed calculations, leading to an increased digital divide. Sky’s tack suggests we were right with their apparent strategy of refusing to supply customers that will negatively affect that average. This is obviously bad news for consumers, especially those currently unable to achieve the minimum 2Mbps as it will limit their choice in the market. Although Sky has been noted to offer an alternative FTTC service (where available and where a minimum 2Mbps service is possible) to affected customers, this is likely to be of little comfort to those in rural locations.

What about the 10Mbps USO?

This isn’t great news for the Government’s USO plans. At a time when the Government is attempting to bridge the gap and plug the holes across the UK to ensure everyone can achieve a decent Internet service, Sky seem to be putting a proverbial spanner in the works. The Government is working to ensure a minimum speed of at least 10Mbps for all, yet Sky are clearly shunning any users that can’t even get 2Mbps – hardly helpful!

Of greater concern to us is that where Sky lead others may follow, which will leave consumers already struggling to obtain any level of decent service hamstrung even further through an increasingly restricted choice of providers, stretching the digital divide instead of closing it. Let’s hope not!

On the flip side, it’s good to see more compliance from the larger providers and a commitment to adopting advertising approaches that are clear and provide potentially more accurate speed information, it’s just a shame they are so keen to protect that ‘average speed’ they are willing to exclude some customers from receiving a service at all.

Have your say!

Do you think an average speed approach to marketing is better and clearer than the standard up to approach? Do you think Sky are being unfair by refusing sub 2Mbps customers? Do you think other providers will follow suit or maintain their existing advertising strategies? Let us know your opinions with a comment below.

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