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CAP (Committees of Advertising Practice) has opened a public consultation seeking views on 4 new proposals to strengthen the current broadband speed advertising guidelines. We’re pleased to see CAP take this approach but we still have some concerns over their practicality and potential impact.

The consultation will last for 10 weeks, closing on 13th July 2017 and the options they propose (whilst also stating they are open to suggestions) are to base all broadband speed claims on:

  • Peak-time median download speed
  • 24-hour national median download speed
  • Range of peak-time download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users
  • Range of 24-hour national download speeds available to the 20th to 80th percentile of users

They also encourage the provider to direct consumers towards more specific broadband speed estimators to receive a more accurate idea of the speed actually achievable on their line.

We welcome this refreshingly consultative approach and applaud CAP and the ASA for actively seeking feedback and being open to ideas both from industry and the public. Perhaps the Government could learn a lesson or two from them!

Our personal preference would be to avoid the ‘range of speed’ options as we believe it may cause more confusion than it would clarify, especially in mass advertising situations where the consumer has a limited time to absorb the information e.g. short TV advert or billboard. We are also pleased to see CAP encouraging the use of more accurate speed estimates at the point of ordering, something which we make actively available to all of our resellers.

Commenting on the review Digital Minister Matt Hancock said: “I’m delighted that rules on how broadband speeds are advertised are to be tightened up. So-called ‘up to’ speeds that in the past only needed to be available to 10 per cent of consumers are incredibly misleading, customers need clear, concise and accurate information in order to make an informed choice. In the past, too many people haven’t been getting the speeds they thought they signed up for, and I’m pleased this is being put right.”

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple and we have a number of key concerns for the channel, many of which we have raised in similar articles where we covered previous attempts by CAP/ ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) to clarify speed advertising:

  • Smaller resellers unfairly represented

Due to the smaller customer base that a smaller ISP would be forced to calculate their speeds on (especially if they provide to predominantly rural or lower speed areas), they could appear to be ‘slower’ than some of the larger, national providers when they are actually providing the same service and would in theory deliver very similar if not identical speeds. We believe this could negatively affect their ability to compete against the larger, national ISPs.

  • ISPs refusing service to ‘low speed’ customers

How far will ISPs go to protect their ‘headline speed’ stats? We could potentially see further examples of customers on lower speed connections being refused service in an attempt by the ISP to protect their ‘higher’ speed claims – It has already been reported that Sky Broadband have started to refuse to supply customers with sub 2Mbps speeds – perhaps this was a factor in that decision.

This would obviously be very bad news for customers already struggling to obtain a reasonable service and would inevitably affect the Government’s plans for 100% coverage and the USO. This would need to be policed to ensure customers with low speeds aren’t unfairly treated and their choice of provider doesn’t become restricted.

  • Uncontrollable factors

Whilst we understand the need to ensure an accurate estimated speed is provided to the customer to help them choose the best service for their needs, we also believe customers need to be educated more regarding uncontrollable factors that can affect the actual speed they will achieve such as internal wiring, WiFi quality, interference etc. Factors such as these are unforeseeable by the provider and often uncontrollable, yet a customer unfamiliar with their effect on the service could easily be left frustrated.

We also need clarity on which speed tester should be used and the information that must be provided as multiple versions are currently available.

  • Will it simply cause more confusion?

The reasons behind the varying speeds experienced by customers are complex and often difficult to explain to non ‘tech-savvy’ customers. Add to that the variety of connection options e.g. copper based ADSL, ADSL2+ through to FTTC and FTTP and the customer could easily be overwhelmed by the amount of options and the varying ‘speed’ information they are presented with, making it more difficult to effectively compare packages rather than simplifying the process.

ThinkBroadband.com has provided a useful illustration based on their own speed test research which demonstrates the varying speeds that would be advertised using each of the proposed approaches.

Would it be better to simply avoid speed in adverts?

Whilst ‘speed’ can be a distinguishing feature for providers, it can be horrendously confusing for customers. We think it would be better to avoid the advertising of speed completely in the mass marketing situation and focus on other service aspects such as reliability, cost etc. Or perhaps the provider could focus on the application and use of the service, for example, would it be a suitable service to support HD streaming, audio streaming etc.

The customers could then be referred to more detailed explanations and more accurate speed checkers via the providers’ websites where a specific estimated speed achievable on their line should be provided.

This isn’t the first time CAP/ASA have intervened and imposed guidelines and probably won’t be the last. Previous attempts don’t appear to have worked and have potentially caused more confusion, so should we simply avoid comparisons by speed completely?

ISPA appear to have suggested a similar approach, stating: “We particularly support CAP’s suggestions that adverts should prompt consumers to ask providers for a more personalised speed estimate. Our members already provide this kind of information as part of their sales journey and we would also urge consumers to consider other factors such as brand, service quality, speed and the availability of bundled services when choosing their providers.”

We will be interested to see how the consultation develops, the final decision that is made and how it will impact the channel. We will provide further updates on this as they become available.

Have your say!

Do you currently advertise based on headline speeds? Do the proposals raise any further concerns for your business? Which option do you think should be adopted? Let us know your thoughts with a comment below.  

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