Transparency in broadband ads – it’s time to finish the job

9th March 2017

Imagine you want a book a flight to New York. You find an advert for an airline promising “Business Class legroom in Economy” for £550 return. The tickets are little bit more expensive than you’d like, but the legroom sounds too good to be true so you buy your tickets.

A couple of months later, you’re sat in seat 22F, legs squashed into the seat in front. When you try to complain, the cabin crew refers you to the small print on your booking: “Advertised legroom is available to only 10% of customers”.

This sounds unbelievable, but it’s exactly what is happening in the broadband market right now. Currently many broadband advertisements feature ambitious speed claims which, as long as they’re available to at least one-in-ten customers, the advertising regulator is satisfied that all is above board.

This is unfair on consumers, who prioritise speed claims when they are determining which product to buy, according to Ipsos MORI research for Virgin Media. And the same research finds that three-quarters of consumers find the claims misleading – rising to more than four-in-five people aged 55-75. These are just some of the findings of extensive research that we have commissioned to better understand and advocate for consumers.   

It’s important that consumers get what they pay for. Virgin Media is a consumer champion and that’s why we have been fighting for honest advertising for over a year. The good news is that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) agreed last year to review its 10% rule. But we need tough guidance to ensure a fairer regime, and the ASA should rule that broadband companies must only include speeds that the majority of their customers can receive.

Virgin Media isn’t alone in wanting this rule to be amended. On 8 March, Parliament debated the 10% rule, and for a change all political parties were united. Matt Warman, Conservative MP (and a former Technology Editor at the Daily Telegraph) moved the debate, describing the 10% rule as “a shambles”. Labour’s Louise Haigh said that the 10% rule “leaves people duped”. Matt Hancock, Digital Minister, remarked how unusual it was that the House was in agreement, and called for new advertising rules that are “clear, concise and accurate”.

Warman closed the debate by saying he hoped the ASA introduced a majority rule. The public agrees with him. Over 100,000 people have signed Which?’s petition for a majority rule to replace the misleading 10% rule. The regulator needs to listen to consumers and introduce guidance that is clear, simple and fair. It’s time for the ASA to get up to speed and make that happen.