CAP rules that at least 50% of customers will need to get advertised broadband speeds
We now have an answer on broadband speeds in adverts, ISP websites, package listings etc they will need to feature the median download speed that customers receive during the peak time period, with the peak period defined as 8pm to 10pm.
“There are a lot of factors that affect the broadband speed a customer is going to get in their own home; from technology to geography, to how a household uses broadband. While we know these factors mean some people will get significantly slower speeds than others; when it comes to broadband ads, our new standards will give consumers a better understanding of the broadband speeds offered by different providers when deciding to switch providers. We continually review our standards to make sure they reflect consumers’ experiences, the technology available and the evidence base to make sure our standards are in the right place.
Following extensive research and consultation, we hope our new standards will improve customer confidence in future ads. Director of the Committees of Advertising Practice, Shahriar Coupal
We doubt anyone is going to be opening the celebration champagne over this news, but are sure some will celebrate this news as the result of years of campaigning but there are not many that can claim our position as innovators in letting the public test the speed of their broadband connections for over 15 years and how things have changed since back in 2002 people were worrying about differences in performance of 60 Kbps between 1st and 10th place in our monthly round up. The other options such as a range of speeds were considered as a solution to the speed problem by CAP but it was felt a range might confuse the public who mistake this for the much more important personalised speed range given once they start enquiring about broadband with the various providers.
Peak time speeds have been adopted for the simple fact that since its peak time this is also when most people want to use their broadband and with the range in performance that we see sometimes we would agree with CAP that quoting a 24 hour average has potential to mislead, particularly given the time its taken to arrive at this decision point. There is one type of advert aimed at consumers where the median download speed can be missing and that is your lifestyle adverts that just like today omit minor technical details like how fast the service is. Also no new requirements on upload speeds needing to be mentioned.
Nothing is going to change immediately as providers have until 23rd May 2018 to comply with the new rules and importantly this only applies to residential broadband services. The residential aspect is interesting as moving forward it means some providers will still be selling up to 38 Mbps VDSL2 services, when others will be selling 30 Mbps average speed services. In adverts you will most likely not see the word median appearing but the word average and the wording of the new guidance is such that if a provider wants to they can do things like talk about the speed that 75% or some other figure achieve, in other words so long as the figure is what 50% or more achieve at peak times.
So what will this mean for adverts, what figures are we going to see? Hard to say for sure, as while we do track peak time speeds, these are not split into specific products and the 8pm to 10pm window, we normally work on a 4 or 6 hour wide window for peak time, but with some rejigging of the analysis software we hope to be able to give better guideline figures. Adjusting our methodology to give some backup figures compared to what the providers release is very important, as without any independent verification and analysis it would be relatively easy for a broadband provider to game the system to gain a 2 to 3 Mbps advantage over a competitor.
- Peak time ADSL technology speeds are such that we expect adverts to talk of 6 to 9 Mbps download speeds.
- VDSL2/FTTC up to 38 Mbps products are likely to drop into the 24 Mbps to 30 Mbps region
- VDSL2/FTTC up to 52 Mbps products are only sold in volume by BT Consumer and with speed boosts still ongoing, we don’t feel able to predict until another month or two of data has been seen.
- VDSL2/FTTC up to 76 Mbps products will probably end up talking about 45 to 55 Mbps average speeds.
- Cable broadband, while we have average speeds of 126 Mbps for the Virgin Media 300 Mbps service, we expect Virgin Media to still advertise speeds well above this, if we have to place a bet the 300 Mbps tier will shift to a 200 Mbps average.
This is down to a mixture of factors including things like measuring just between router and a location on the providers own network and improvements to their access network.
- Full Fibre/FTTP/FTTH/FTTB providers while not having any of the variations due to connection speed still have the shared nature of consumer broadband to contend with.
We do have some worries about what may happen to the market, and these are things like providers filtering customers so that they only take on those with lines that are going to be favourable to their median results, this filtering may also extend to profiling customers who are likely to be very heavy data users. The filtering may be just steering potential customers to alternative products, but if customers are refused service they find that their choice of providers packages is restricted, this will need to be something Ofcom watches out for. Another oddity is how the average speed is arrived at and how does CAP, the public and Ofcom know that a provider is testing a representative sample of all the line lengths and areas of the UK e.g. if a provider is known to perform poorly in one town at peak times avoiding testing in those areas will be a big temptation.
There is a second string to the guidance from CAP it has a response to its review of ‘fibre’ in broadband advertising and it is that the way the word ‘fibre’ is used in advertising can largely remain.
The ASA has also today announced the outcome of its review of “fibre” claims in broadband advertising. Having considered all of the evidence provided during the review, it has concluded that it is not materially misleading to describe broadband services that use fibre-optic cables for only part of the connection to consumers’ homes as “fibre broadband”. The ASA has published research which it commissioned as part of its review, carried out by the agency Define, which found that: “fibre” is not one of the priorities identified by consumers when choosing a broadband package; that consumers did not notice “fibre” claims in ads; that consumers, when probed, saw it as a shorthand buzzword to describe modern, fast broadband; and that consumers did not believe they would change their previous decisions after the differences between those services and broadband services that use fibre optic cables all the way to the home were explained to them.
However, in recognition of the performance differences between different types of broadband service, including between ‘part-fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ services, the ASA advises that:
- as has always been the case, ads should not describe non-fibre services as “fibre”;
- ads should not state or imply a service is the most technologically advanced on the market if it is a part-fibre service;
- ads should make performance claims for fibre services (part- or full-) that are appropriate for the type of technology delivering that service, and should hold evidence to substantiate the specific claims made; and
- specifically, ads should refer to speed in a manner that is appropriate for the technology, including by having due regard to CAP’s new guidance on numerical speed claims.
CAP guidance on ‘fibre’ in broadband adverts
We have included the bulk of this section from the CAP press release to ensure no nuances are lost and we are certain that the passion felt over the fibre issue is going to mean some people are upset. While we understand why some are likely to be upset the research seems pretty clear that once you get outside the broadband industry bubble that so many of us live and work in the public perception of all this can be very different.
I’m delighted to see that CAP is finally changing the way broadband speeds are advertised. Headline “Up to” speeds that only need to be available to 10% of consumers are incredibly misleading – customers need clear, concise and accurate information in order to make an informed choice.
We have been fighting for this for some time now, and it’s a great victory for consumers. The clarification on the way fibre services should be advertised is a welcome step in the right direction, and I hope the ASA will keep the matter under review. Minister for Digital Matt Hancock on CAP speed guidance
ISPA supports today’s change to rules governing the advertising of broadband speeds as an important way of providing consumers with clear and accurate information.
The new rules, alongside existing steps of providing speed information at point of sale, the ability to exit a contract and switching, mean consumers have a number of tools at their disposal to make an informed choice about which ISP or broadband service is right for them. Commenting on CAP guidance, ISPA Chair Andrew Glover
In final summary, your existing services are not going to be changing at all. If you are getting 36 Mbps today at peak times from our speed tester and you switch provider and their technology and performance is the same as your current provider then there will no reason why you won’t get the same 36 Mbps again, even though the adverts may change from up to 38 Mbps to an average of 30 Mbps after May 2018.
A caveat we don’t believe we have mentioned in the news before, is that if you switch between partial fibre providers (VDSL2/FTTC technology) that the Dynamic Line Management systems may reset and some speed improvements may vanish for a few weeks – the recent upgrades for TalkTalk and PlusNet customers to increase upload speeds have triggered this quirk for some but generally the lost speed does come back in a couple of weeks.