It is time for ISPs to stop misleading their consumers

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Keith Warburton, President of the Technology Channels Association, says that the ASA’s demand that BT stop running a misleading TV advert on broadband speeds is all well and good, but BT is not alone in making deliberately misleading claims about broadband speed. It is endemic in the market.

“Ofcom has recently Ofcom research admitted that virtually all Internet Service Providers (ISP) are guilty of misleading customers as to the real speed of the broadband service they offer. Average actual download speeds are a mere 58% of the average “up to” speeds claimed by ISPs. In its report, Ofcom tacitly admits that information provided to consumers was generally insufficient to allow them to have a clear expectation of the speed of the broadband service they sign up to.

Ofcom’s data indicates that a DSL broadband package being advertised as giving speeds up to 8 or 10 Megabits per second (Mbit/s) is typically delivering data at just 3.3Mbit/s, and that 20/24Mbit/s connections are providing average actual speeds of just 6.5Mbits/s. The data also clearly shows that whilst the service provided by cable operators such as Sky, Talk Talk and Virgin is consistency faster that that provided over phone lines, they also are not delivering their claimed “up to” speeds.

It seems to me that consumers are being knowingly misled by ISPs, it’s as simple as that. Motor manufacturers wouldn’t get away with making exaggerated claims as to cars’ actual top speeds. A lot of cars can do 155mph but one of the reasons it is only shown in the small print in adverts is because it is in practice impossible to achieve such speeds in normal usage. Instead, car manufacturers lead on quality, service, cost of running and reliability. It’s about time that ISP’s were brave enough, and grown up enough, to lead on their actual qualities and benefits, rather than theoretical ones. Perhaps the reason they don’t is because they have too many complaints from disappointed customers.

Instead of using theoretical speeds that could only be achieved if you actually live inside the telephone exchange Ofcom should force ISPs into using an area-specific Typical Speed Range (TSR) in adverts. They could then charge customers on a sliding scale that takes into account not just usage, but performance.

Many TCA members, installers and retailers of information technology, spend a great deal of their time explaining the problems, mostly based on copper-wire issues, to customers who, misled by broadband suppliers advertising, believe that their IT hardware is faulty.

It is time ISPs came clean about the situation. It’s time for the broadband market to shed an unprofessional image, brought about by unrealistic advertising.

Frankly, it is time for the broadband market to grow up.”