back to article We will end misleading broadband adverts, thunders ASA...

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced it will be cracking down on dodgy fixed broadband price claims... from 31 October. Back in January, the ASA and telco regulator Ofcom published joint research which found that the current approach to presenting pricing in fixed broadband ads was "likely to confuse and …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ASA has recommended that future broadband advertisements should...

    and if they stick a middle finger to this RECOMMENDATION about what they SHOULD (rather than HAVE TO) do, then the ASA is working overtime on a new letter format to send off to those offending parties as of October 1. 2035.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: ASA has recommended that future broadband advertisements should...

      In theory all the ASA doing is warning advertisers that they are committing fraud and could be prosecuted.

      You may have been misled about their remit by the ASA advertising.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: ASA has recommended that future broadband advertisements should...

        "You may have been misled about their remit by the ASA advertising."

        To spell it out:

        The ASA has no legal remit.

        It is a TRADE ASSOCIATION(*). It has NO LEGAL POWERS.

        _All_ it can do if ignored is notify trading standards (or Ofcom), the same as us mere plebs.

        (*) Membership of the ASA is those very same companies who run the adverts. It's very much "fox guarding the henhouse" material (the industry was given a choice of "selfregulation" or having the government impose laws). I have a large stack of correspondence from them blowing off various complaints and claiming not to be covered by FOI legislation(**)

        (**) Hint: Regulators and private bodies which act as regulators(***) in the absence of government ones, or any organisation operating under contract to a government body in areas which that body would otherwise be responsible for, or any organisation which has been delegated power by a regulator(****) are covered by FOI (This is why ACPO rolled over and "voluntarily submitted" to FOI framework rather than having the ICO declare they're covered.)

        (***) IE, the General Medical Council, Trade disciplinary bodies, etc. The ICO was "rather interested" in the claim to not be covered, to say the least, but didn't take it further.

        (****) Ofcom delegated limited power to the ASA about 7 years ago. Basically ASA is supposed to be first port of call for misleading adverts and the ASA will raise it to Ofcom from there. The ASA still maintains it's not covered by FOI legislation.

        An enterprising journalist might like to test their non-FOI coverage claims and then see how the ICO reacts when given the ASA's response.

  2. TechnicalBen Silver badge
    Trollface

    I'm offering free internet!

    To anyone who pays £50 a month for a totally unrelated reason. Free internet only available to those paying the unrelated £50.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: I'm offering free internet!

      I pay more than £50 a month down my local pub for beer and that's unrelated to the net. Can I have my free internet?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I'm offering free internet!

        Doesn't your pub to "free"[*] WiFi? Cheap barstewards!

        [*] It's rarely actually free. Most want you to sign in first. Then scrape all your data if it's an outsourced provider (looking at you Arquiva) and some even have the nerve to limit you to 30 minutes (again, looking at you Arquiva!)

        We keep hearing about "free" WiFi and how people should be able to wander down the street "hopping" from one WiFi signal to another with nary a break in what they are doing. Where does that work? here in the UK they almost all require you to log in every 100 yds down the road. Maybe the ASA could look into these claims too :-)

  3. adam payne Silver badge

    I'm sure we've been here before with the ASA making noise about price and speed claims in adverts.

  4. Cynical Shopper

    It's not just the adverts

    Ofcom's complicit in that its "approved" comparison sites, eg. broadbandchoices, also do their best to hide line rental costs, and don't show or allow comparison of prices after the initial discount.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: It's not just the adverts

      "Ofcom's complicit"

      What do you expect?

      The staff come from the industry and move back to the industry. They're not about to go shitting in the nest.

      ALL of this stuff is trading standards material. Why Ofcom is "regulating" misleading adverts is a far bigger question as is why none of the media (including El Reg) is raising such questions in public.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: It's not just the adverts

      "Ofcom's complicit in that its "approved" comparison sites, eg. broadbandchoices, also do their best to hide line rental costs, and don't show or allow comparison of prices after the initial discount."

      I can imagine it's a bit of a minefield though. If you are on cable you don't need a landline so there's no line rental in that respect for the BB cost. If you want ADSL or similar which comes over a phone line and you don't have or want a landline phone already then it's an extra cost required to install and maintain the service. If you already have a landline then cost is something you already pay for the landline phone service.

      So, whether the line rental should or should not be included might be a good or bad thing depending on the specific customer needs. AFAIK, it's still the vast majority of homes in the UK which have a working landline for voice calls, so maybe extracting the line rental from the BB cost is the correct answer with a separate price listed for those who don't already have a landline but given equal prominence in the ads.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: It's not just the adverts

        " If you are on cable you don't need a landline so there's no line rental in that respect for the BB cost."

        Do you remember the days when "certain airlines" used to offer impossibly cheap airfares, then load in mandatory charges after they'd pulled you in?

        There's a reason bait-and-switch advertising is illegal

        As far as I'm concerned the ASA is talking bollocks. Trading standards should be getting involved involved - as they did when people started complaining about those airlines, with the result that the practice was declared illegal and all companies doing it had to stop RIGHT NOW - that's why you're supposed to be seeing the full prices, upfront, no surcharges or fees or taxes to add in later.

        Perhaps Alexander Martin might like to get comments from his local trading standards office - I doubt they'll be impressed that misleading adverts will be allowed by the ASA until October.

  5. Bob Dunlop

    They need to ban the phrase "up to" when talking about line speed. Require they use "at least" or "guaranteed minimum".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Or... educate people as to what 'up to' means.

      I wonder whether you drive and if so whether you insist that your car always travels at it's maximum rated speed? Your tyres are probably rated for a higher speed than the drivetrain will deliver, so did you insist on a proportional discount on them as you can never use them to full speed capacity??

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or... educate people as to what 'up to' means.

        So if you applied for a job at BP (for example) you'd be happy for your employment contract to say "salary package up to £14m", and wouldn't think you'd been royally shafted when your first payslip was only for £1,500? "Ah, but we only said "up to", and we do really have one employee who's paid that. The CEO, since you ask." Broadband providers should have to state a minimum guaranteed speed, and a headline speed no greater than the maximum that 90%, say, of their customers receive.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "So if you applied for a job at BP (for example) you'd be happy for your employment contract to say "salary package up to £14m"

          The mostly do say stuff like that. Job adverts often list the maximum of a salary range whereas actual pay is likely to be in the middle of the range. I'd rather expect to have agreed pay before I sign a contract - I wouldn't expect to wait until my payslip to find out such a thing.

          1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

            "

            Job adverts often list the maximum of a salary range whereas actual pay is likely to be in the middle of the range. I'd rather expect to have agreed pay before I sign a contract - I wouldn't expect to wait until my payslip to find out such a thing.

            "

            Which is exactly the same for broadband. Most ISPs website's have a box for you to enter your postcode, whereupon it will give you an indication of what speed you can expect, which I have found to be reasonably accurate.

        2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

          "salary package up to £14m"

          Many jobs are like that. If anyone is stupid enough to take one without fully understanding what that means then that's just tough; they should have at least asked the rather obvious question as to what the guaranteed minimum would be.

          For broadband, knowing what the maximum can be is important; it's just that what one is likely to get is just as important. The problem is how one measures that and how one creates a measure which is comparable across providers, otherwise it will become as meaningless as some benchmarks are.

    2. King Jack

      How about a more honest 'average speed'? How about banning the money grabbing 'activation fee'? I've argued away that nonsense before. Just threaten to cancel just before you accept the service. Ask them what is involved in activation and why flipping a switch is worth £x. There is no explanation except that it easy to get money from somebody if they are in the act of spending it.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: "up to"

      I have no problem with that being in large text of the advert, but when I wish to purchase there really is no excuse to not do as Zen have been doing for several years now and run the BT wholesale speed checker and give a speed guarantee based on it's findings. But then I suspect this is one of those areas where you get what you pay for and hence "up to" covers those circumstances where everyone on your shared line are downloading TV and hence you get significantly less.

      Whilst a guaranteed minimum would be nice, suspect it might be 56kbps on a 38Mbps connection...

      What would be helpful is better metrics on actual service received in your area, which will naturally vary and hence a single average/typical speed figure would also be of little real use - other being just another factor for comparison sites to work with.

  6. Lee D Silver badge

    Not sure if we need to change the adverts, or give people some fecking maths lessons.

    Honestly, there was still a significant percentage that was totally UNABLE to add up the numbers given?

    1. The Axe

      People have been taught not to think for themselves as everything is managed by the state. Now that people can't think, other people who do think are taking advantage of them. And rather than teach people to think for themselves, the ASA wants to dumb down people even more. #ScrapTheASA

    2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      The problem isn't that people cannot add up but that it's not easy to figure out exactly what one needs to add up. It's the not making things easy which the ASA are trying to rectify.

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        The problem isn't that people cannot add up but that it's not easy to figure out exactly what one needs to add up. It's the not making things easy which the ASA are trying to rectify."

        When I switched to EE, I found the basic adding up easy, however, working out what was the actual (undiscounted) cost of the service was and the additional discounts I could get by combining things was not.

        I've found the same with the energy comparison sites, the figures they give merely narrow the field. Once I've identified the few, I then need to break out the spreadsheets to get figures that actually represent what I will be paying each month.

  7. Terry 6 Silver badge

    ASA - Lap dogs

    A few years ago I complained about this to ASA. OK I'm only one individual, I didn't expect them to launch a task force, with helicopters and infantry. But what they did was to write back that they couldn't see anything wrong with broadband ads that were overtly misleading. Ads that offered a very low price in big print with the "first three months" bit in tiny print, tucked out of sight.

    ASA seem to work very hard not to see problems at the very least until the damage has been done.

    Typically banning an advert months after the campaign has already finished.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: ASA - Lap dogs

      "ASA seem to work very hard not to see problems at the very least until the damage has been done."

      See my first comment. Once you realise the ASA is paid for by the people producing the misleading adverts, perhaps their reluctance to do anything makes more sense.

      It's only in the last few years that they've been asked to earn their keep. Prior to 2003 they had to deal with a few hundred complaints per year - that's now thousands per month and climbing. Their first reaction to the increasing volume was to try and ban anyone who submitted "too many" complaints or pointed out that they were sharing performance stats with others - a response which almost got them rendered superfluous as it got pointed out by several people in Whitehall that this was a refusal to self-regulate. Following that they simply started accepting and burying complaints until it was clear this course of action wasn't going to work either.

      They've always done the absolute minimum necessary to stave off government regulators stepping in and they'll always be like that unless their feet are firmly held to the fire.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ASA - Lap dogs

      Totally agree with you. There is a current complaint about BT having the most powerful wifi router,

      ASA still sitting kicking the can on this one, meanwhile the adverts are still being pumped out.

      Totally wrong.

  8. caffeine addict Silver badge
    Flame

    The ASA is the most worthless toothless watchdog there is. It doesn't even bloody bark any more, just grumble in its sleep.

    How hard is it to say "Any new advert from today must comply with this statement, and any existing print/billboard/bus advert must be replaced by the end of next month. Anyone failing to comply with be taken to court by us."

    I know, I know, it's not in the ASA's remit, but what the hell is the point of it if it doesn't have those sorts of powers as an absolute minimum?

    1. The Axe

      The ASA can't even ban an advert. All it can do is ask that the advert is not shown again - usually after the campaign has finished and the advert not likely to be shown anyway.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        A very simple piece of legislation for the Government to pass - if they so wished - would be to say that if an advert for a product is judged to be misleading then anyone who bought the product, either during the advert's run or up to 3 months afterwards, is entitled to an automatic refund, regardless of whether the product can be returned or was consumed.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "A very simple piece of legislation for the Government to pass - if they so wished - would be to say....."

          If other people's problems seem simple to solve you've failed to understand the problem.

          Your proposal would allow company 'X' to bribe someone in company 'Y' to make a mistake in an advert and thus bankrupt the competition.

    2. Artaxerxes

      Stopping you right there, take a look at the Parlimentary watchdog, the guys who ensure MP's don't sidestep into cushy jobs.

      Those are the most useless bastards.

      The ASA is merely a bit crap by comparison.

  9. Unep Eurobats
    Facepalm

    Misleading broadband adverts

    '£12e3 line rent'

    This would mislead me too. Is that an exponential in there?

    Advertised broadband figures are completely meaningless. You might as well use the speed limit of a city-centre street as a guide to what the average speed will be at any given time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Misleading broadband adverts

      "You might as well use the speed limit of a city-centre street as a guide.."

      The providers know what the average speed of their subscribers is. Just add up the real world speeds of their customers and divide it by the number of customers, that is the average. It is based on facts not fiction. If the customer gets a higher speed then smiles all around. It will be closer to the truth than an 'upto' figure. If they fall too far from the average then the customer can look for a better ISP

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Misleading broadband adverts

        "The providers know what the average speed of their subscribers is. "

        Are you sure about that? They probably know the line or sync speed of the last mile connection but the actual throughput must vary hugely depending on both the originating server, the route taken through the public Internet and the user's home network and devices.

        If you measure the throughput of my broadband when I'm watching a 4K stream from my ISP via a TV directly plugged into my router it will be very different to the throughput measured if I'm at the end of the garden trying to stream a low bandwidth Internet radio station via WiFi.

        If you ignore throughput and just focus on line speed then two ISPs, one who spends a lot on backhaul and one who spends the bare minimum will look exactly the same in their advertising.

        What's your solution to this problem?

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Misleading broadband adverts

          "If you ignore throughput and just focus on line speed then two ISPs, one who spends a lot on backhaul and one who spends the bare minimum will look exactly the same in their advertising."

          The answer to that is "contention or multipexing ratios" - but ISPs won't willingly hand over this kind of information and Ofcom refuses to make them publish it.

  10. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Are you reading this Virgin Media....????

    Hello Virgin Media...

    1. The line rental standing charge element is a con and should be wrapped up in the overall cost.

    2. The key element for me however is banning (you/these) companies from raising costs 1/2 way through an agreed contract terms just because the "terms and conditions" say you can. If you want me locked in for 24 months then it needs to be on an agreed term cost, just like any other commercial contract would be. The costs of my home BB infrastructure does not change that much over 24 months to justify the regular price gouging that you seem to feel you are allowed to get away with.

    3. You should be legally obligated to state your contact telephone number clearly and squarely on the "contact us" section of your webshite. I should not have to dig through reams of obfuscating submenus and FAQs that purport to "aide" but generally don't resolve anything, simply because you've decided to not adequately fund your support organisation.

    NB: That said, I do generally receive what I pay for in terms of line speed so no real complaints there.

    1. Patrician

      Re: Are you reading this Virgin Media....????

      Getting in touch with Virgin Media is pretty easy; 150 on you VM supplied land line.

      1. DaddyHoggy

        Re: Are you reading this Virgin Media....????

        Although dialling 150 on your VM land line when your VM land line and BB are both down and that's what you're trying to report - is somewhat irksome as the non-150 number is not easy to find especially when you're relying on a clunky VM website loading up via 3G on a small screen smart phone.

        The non-150 number is now stored on my phone for this very reason.

  11. Commswonk Silver badge

    Thinking about it...

    ...not "enforcing" this recommendation until later in the year gives the ISPs plenty of time to work out new ways to gouge their victims customers.

    I have little doubt that they have some promising ideas up their corporate sleeves already.

  12. Mr Flibble
    Meh

    Here's some more discussion about this. TL;DR – not all ISPs do line rental, not all require that your line is with them, not all provide PSTN as standard (or at all) over the line which you rent from them…

    I have the distinct impression that this change is for big business by big business.

  13. Gerry 3
    Facepalm

    The ASA have lost the plot...

    As usual, the ASA have totally lost the plot. Or perhaps it's the CMA or one of the other watchdogs, they're all utterly useless.

    Everyone should be able to order ANY combination of line rental, phone calls, broadband and / or TV from ANY mix of companies, with absolutely no bundling or tie ins.

    If I find cheaper line rental, why should I have to move my broadband to something which might be more expensive, less reliable and slower? If I move my broadband, why should I have to pay more for my phone calls and lose my access to 18185? If I only want a landline, why is my choice limited to only two companies or so?

    The proposed new regime will still be opaque and totally uncompetitive. It's like buying a Ford and then finding that you can only insure it with Ford, you can only fill up at Shell and you can only go shopping at Sainbury's.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: The ASA have lost the plot...

      "Everyone should be able to order ANY combination of line rental, phone calls, broadband and / or TV from ANY mix of companies, with absolutely no bundling or tie ins."

      Unless and until Openreach is forcibly divested from BT, this will never happen.

      Look to New Zealand to see what happens when the the Lines company is fully separated from the Dialtone provider (the answer is, "the handbrakes come off").

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: The ASA have lost the plot...

        Unless and until Openreach is forcibly divested from BT, this will never happen.

        Well if you really want no bundling or tie in's, you really need to also breakup: Sky, Virgin, TalkTalk etc.

    2. glen waverley

      Re: The ASA have lost the plot...

      Gerry 3 "It's like buying a Ford and then finding that you can only insure it with Ford, you can only fill up at Shell and you can only go shopping at Sainbury's."

      That sounds very like something called third line forcing. It's illegal in Oz. Wonder what the law is in the Mother Country?

      (For clarity, the word "line" doesn't refer to phone line in this context. I think it really means something like "line of business". The classic situation was buy the Ford car, have to insure with Ford Insurance Ltd.)

  14. ecofeco Silver badge

    So a little more time for appeals then?

    See title.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    FTTH here in Atlantic Canada

    I have the minimum Internet service. It's a 100 Mbps down and 30 up or is it 150 down? either way it's 30 up, unless it's 50 up. No, I think it's only 30 up :(

    haha, sorry had to brag ;) I do love FTTH.

    I thought BT was given a huge sum of money to provide that. What happened there?

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: FTTH here in Atlantic Canada

      Nah! BT asked for a huge sum of money to provide FTTH, there was a sharp intake of breath by the politicians, who then negotiated and decided they could just about afford FTTC.

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