Like the internet itself, broadband advertising has been through some growing pains since it emerged into mainstream society.
Any new technology needs to become established before acceptable standards can be implemented.
The internet went through a period of unregulated domain name sales, insecure data transfers and competing video codecs before today’s international standards and regulations were laid down.
Similarly, broadband advertising was initially a free-for-all between ISPs competing in a new and largely unregulated market.
Today, the question of how accurate is broadband advertising can be answered with both clarity and reassurance for consumers.
As broad as it’s fast
To begin with, there was little agreement about what constituted broadband internet access.
If a line could physically transfer data at ten megabits per second (ten million individual binary bits of data), the ISP could claim consumers would routinely receive that level of service.
Of course, theoretical optimum speeds and achievable real-world speeds are often very different.
Subsequent advertising regulations allowed ISPs to quote ‘up to’ speeds providing ten per cent of their customers could access them at any point in the day (or, more significantly, night).
Yet even this was hardly representative of actual performance up and down the UK, especially since average broadband speeds vary widely from one region to the next.
By 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority introduced a new rule that speed claims had to be based on the download speeds achievable at peak times.
On top of that, ISPs had to demonstrate those peak speeds would be available to at least half of their customers.
These achievable speeds also had to be described as ‘average’, to manage consumer expectations.
How accurate is broadband advertising in 2023?
Subsequent changes to ASA regulations have placed further responsibilities on ISPs to ensure line speed promises are accurate and achievable.
Indeed, Ofcom has proposed cancelling its annual summary of home broadband ISP speeds, claiming advertising is now a sufficiently accurate guide to what consumers can expect.
Nor is it only line speeds where broadband advertising has evolved. Price has also fallen into the regulatory crosshairs.
At a time of high inflation and dwindling disposable income levels, the ASA is proposing that ISPs must become far clearer about possible future price rises.
Today, it’s possible to increase monthly costs mid-contract by a figure that usually equates to Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) plus a small percentage – typically 3.9 per cent.
The ASA wants information about future price increases to be unambiguously outlined in broadband advertising, with prominent indications of what those increases might equate to.
This will have to include clear, concise inflation terminology, and also the impact on linked services such as triple-play packages bundled in with a broadband deal.
These changes will come into force in mid-December, but you can expect ISPs to begin tailoring existing ad campaigns to reflect the new guidance almost immediate