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UK broadband advertising rules to be updated

UK rules on broadband advertising are to be updated, the bodies that write and enforce the rules have said.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) said it plans to review and update existing guidance, and will "publish a response" in spring 2017. The review follows the publication of research commissioned by CAP and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) into consumers' understanding of broadband speed claims made in adverts.

"CAP’s announcement that it is going to review its guidance to advertisers on broadband speed claims is driven by its overarching requirement that advertising is true, accurate and not misleading," said copy clearance expert George Campbell of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "In light of the research which has been undertaken by CAP and the ASA it seems likely that broadband advertisers will be subject to more restrictive rules on the claims they can make."

In its research report (53-page / 3.02MB PDF), GfK identified particular concerns among consumers about broadband providers' claims to be able to deliver download speeds of 'up to' a certain level of megabits per second.

The report concluded: "Overall levels of knowledge and awareness of broadband speeds was low across participants. It was clear that many participants envisaged that the advertised speed – or close to it – would be relevant to the majority of customers. Those with less speed knowledge believe they will receive the speed advertised. Those with more broadband speed knowledge understand that there are factors that can impact on speeds achieved but typically anticipate that they will achieve a speed close to the speed advertised."

"There is negative reaction to the explanation of the ‘up to’ speed claim. The claim is not considered to be transparent and not useful in helping people determine what speed they might expect to achieve," it said.

Existing UK advertising rules allow broadband providers to make claims about the speed of the service they offer where at least 10% of their customers can obtain those headline speeds, so long as the speed claims are preceded with the words 'up to' and other relevant qualifications to those claims are included.

The ASA said the research serves to "underpin" its "call for a change to the way broadband speed claims are advertised to ensure consumers are not misled".

ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: "Making sure ads don’t mislead is at the heart of what we do. We’ve taken action this year to tackle confusing broadband pricing, to the benefit of consumers. Our new research indicates that speed claims in ads contribute to consumers’ expectations of the broadband speeds they’ll receive, but their expectations are not being met. That needs to change."

Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP, said: "CAP welcomes the ASA’s research and we’ll now begin the process of updating our guidance and publish a response next spring. The research provides good insights into consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims, but it doesn’t identify an obvious alternative way to communicate speeds that would be suitable to everybody’s needs.  It also tells us that consumers believe that advertising can only do so much, which underpins the importance of detailed broadband speed information being provided elsewhere."

"CAP will take these findings and other information into account in its review of the guidance to ensure that broadband providers aren’t over-promising on their speed claims," Coupal said.

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