From tomorrow, broadband firms will no longer be allowed to advertise high-speed internet unless a fair proportion of their customers receive those speeds.
New guidelines being introduced by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which writes the UK government’s advertising codes, state that providers should only be able to make maximum speed claims if they can demonstrate that at least 10 per cent of users are able to benefit from them.
A poll of more than 40,000 broadband users found 89 per cent felt advertising for high-speed internet was misleading.
Price comparison site Broadbandchoices.co.uk, which is accredited by Ofcom, the media regulator, said the new rules did “not go far enough”.
The site’s Dominic Baliszewski said: “Broadband advertising has until now focused on headline speeds that are optimistic at best and completely unrealistic at worst. It is hardly surprising that consumers are unhappy when the Ferrari they paid for turns out to be little faster than a moped.
“The advertising is misleading and customers are waking up to this fact. Recent Ofcom research showed that the average speed achieved by UK broadband customers was 7.6Mbit/s which contrasts starkly with advertised speeds of up to 20MB and 24MB that consumers see every day.”
The price comparison site, which carried out the poll, said the new guidelines were a “step in the right direction”, but meant the majority of customers would still not be getting what they paid for.
Mr Baliszewski added: “Setting the advertised maximum speed at a figure that only a privileged few customers (10 per cent) can receive will still rub salt in the wound for the remaining 90 per cent of customers who have little chance of achieving the provider’s best speeds.
“Customers need to be empowered to make an informed choice. This means they need access to accurate information regarding broadband speeds from the first advert they see, to the point they make a purchase. We would like to see ‘typical speeds’ made the gold standard for broadband advertising in the same way that banks use typical APR percentages, giving consumers a much clearer picture of the kind of service they are likely to receive.”
Average download speeds are less than half of “up to” speeds advertised by some internet service providers (ISPs), according to recent Ofcom research.
Richard Parris, of consumer watchdog Which?, said: “Advertised speeds you’ll rarely or never enjoy and incredibly low prices that don’t include line rental charges – there are plenty of holes to pick in broadband advertising.
“Parts of the country are being left behind in the broadband revolution, and even those areas with access to top
speeds may find their providers are deliberately limiting when these speeds are possible.
“The major broadband providers have deep pockets when it comes to their advertising budgets, but it’s time for them to invest where it really counts - in their customers.”
The new guidelines were welcomed by Virgin Media, one of the UK’s biggest suppliers of broadband, who said the changes would promote “greater transparency” and allow consumers to make more informed choices.