Which? calls for curbs on super-fast broadband ads as 15m homes miss out

Consumers’ group Which? has called on the advertising watchdog to ban companies such as Sky and BT from advertising super-fast broadband promises when more than 15m households don’t get anywhere near the speeds they pay for.

Under the UK advertising code, which is administered by the Advertising Standards Authority, companies are allowed to advertise their top speeds even if they are only actually available to just 10% of customers.

Which? wants companies, including Sky, BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, EE, Three and O2, to be banned from luring new users with attractive high-speed claims unless more than 50% of customers can actually achieve those speeds.

Which? says research it has undertaken shows that while 90% of people consider broadband speed an important factor in their decision to buy a package, 15.4m households are not getting the top speeds advertised.

Companies are able to make the claims by saying broadband packages are available “up to” a certain speed.

“Millions of customers are being taken in by broadband they simply cannot get,” said Alex Neill, Which? director of policy and campaigns. “It’s clear a shake-up is needed. The regulator needs to quickly introduce stricter rules that ensure providers advertise speeds that they can deliver for a majority.”

Culture minister Ed Vaizey has previously said the rules are “misleading” and a “complete and utter joke”.

“It’s not right for internet service providers to advertise speeds that are only available to a minority of their customers,” said Vaizey, commenting on Which?’s call for tighter rules.

Last week, the ASA announced that it is to research consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims made in ads.

The outcome of the research, expected in early autumn, could lead to changes to the broadband advertising rules.

The ASA says that since it introduced the 10% rule and the “up to” qualifier into the advertising code in 2011 complaints about broadband speed advertising have dropped by 60%.

In January, the ASA announced it is to crack down on the way companies including Sky, BT, Virgin Media, TalkTalk, EE, Three and O2 advertise the confusing prices of broadband packages.

This prompted Virgin Media, which is able to offer super-fast broadband through its cable network, to call for the scope to be increased to look at the veracity of “up to” speed claims in ads.

“As an evidence-based regulator we want to make sure our approach is underpinned by the experience of real people,” said Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA. “While complaints to the ASA about broadband speed claims have reduced considerably over recent years, we’re taking action to respond to concerns by testing our approach through consumer research.”

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