Internet advertisers face new speed claim restrictions to replace 'up to'

BT, Sky and Virgin Media could be forced to advertise broadband speeds based on peak-time services or average performances under proposed rules that would outlaw use of the term "up to".

Virgin Media: criticised proposed rules unveiled today
Virgin Media: criticised proposed rules unveiled today

The Committees of Advertising Practice, the body that writes and maintain the UK advertising codes, has published four options that would tighten restrictions on broadband providers.

The consultation, which opens today for ten weeks, includes proposals to tie advertisers’ claims to:

  • The 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.

Each option would also require any ad that made broadband speed claims to urge potential customers to check the speed they are likely to receive with the provider.

The consultation follows research by GfK, commissioned by the Advertising Standards Authority (the body that enforces the UK advertising codes), which found that the current regulatory standards were likely to mislead consumers.

Brigitte Trafford, chief corporate affairs officer at Virgin Media, has criticised the proposals. She said: "Consumers are telling us that if the ASA is serious about making broadband advertising clearer, the new rules should be based on average speeds measured across a full day, rather than just taking a two-hour sample."  

There were 155 complaints made to the ASA last year about 131 ads, of which 21 were upheld. One of those upheld was a BT spot starring actor Ryan Reynolds.

The current standards permit headline speed claims that are achievable by at least 10% of customers and allow advertisers to use the phrase "up to" to help manage consumers’ expectations of achievable speeds.

However, the ASA announced last year that using the words "up to" in internet advertising is confusing, ahead of changes to CAP rules that would be made in 2017.

Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP, said: "We take an evidenced-based approach to our work. Research commissioned by the ASA persuades us that tougher standards are needed to prevent consumers from being misled by advertised broadband speed claims.

"For the next ten weeks, we’re inviting views on four options for change, and remain open to any other options that better manage consumers’ expectations of the broadband speed they’re likely to receive. 

"CAP recognises that advertising can play an early and important part in the journey to choosing a broadband provider. We’re determined to ensure the information it provides, including about broadband speed, is trusted and welcomed by consumers."