Toughen up rules to stop broadband companies advertising speeds they can’t always deliver

Which? is calling for tighter rules on broadband adverts, as new research shows a significant increase in the use of ‘up to’ speed claims that can leave customers with lower speeds than they expect.

 New Which? analysis shows that ‘up to’ speed claims in broadband newspaper adverts have steadily increased since advertising guidelines were introduced in 2012.

In 2012 around one in ten (12%) home broadband newspaper adverts included an ‘up to’ speed claim, but this rocketed to two thirds (68%) between April 2015 and March 2016.

Prior to 2012, when there was no guidance on how broadband speed could be advertised, the use of speed claims in print adverts had been decreasing from four in ten (41%) in 2008.

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) guidance states that only 10% of all customers have to be able to access the maximum advertised speed. These rules mean that many consumers sign up and then struggle to get anywhere near the speeds advertised. Which? research from June 2015 revealed that despite 9 in 10 people saying that they consider speed an important factor – a staggering 15.4 million households were not getting the advertised headline speeds on their broadband packages.

The Which? ‘Give Us Broadband Speed Guaranteed’ campaign is calling on the regulator to revisit its advertising rules and ensure that companies can only advertise ‘up to’ speeds that are available to the majority of their customers, not just 10%.

 Alex Neill, Which? Director of Policy and Campaigns said:

“Millions of customers are being taken in by advertised speeds they simply cannot get. With more and more broadband adverts including ‘up to’ speeds since the guidelines were introduced, it’s clear a shake-up is needed. The regulator needs to quickly introduce stricter rules that ensure providers advertise speeds that they can deliver for a majority.”

Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey said:

“The way broadband speeds are advertised can be misleading and I want to see more clarity to help consumers choose between providers. UK consumers enjoy some of the best coverage and cheapest broadband prices in Europe, but it’s not right for Internet service providers to advertise speeds that are only available to a minority of their customers.”

 Notes to Editors

1   Rule change in 2012: The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) introduced new guidance in 2012 which led to changes in the way broadband ‘up to’ speeds could be advertised. This stated that only 10% of all customers have to be able to achieve the maximum advertised speed.

The Which? ‘Give Us Broadband Speed Guaranteed’ campaign wants broadband providers to back up claims like ‘superfast’ with speeds you’ll actually get. It also wants:

  • Changes to the ‘10%’ rule – Which? wants the regulator to revisit its advertising rules and ensure that companies can only advertise ‘up to’ speeds that are available to the majority of their customers, not just 10%.
  • Providers to be upfront about speeds – information on how many people can actually achieve the ‘up to’ speed claimed in advertising.
  • Automatic compensation - There is now a significant opportunity to tackle consumers’ issues with broadband speed and service with the Government promising a legal right to automatic compensation when service fails as part of the proposed Digital Economy Bill in the Queen’s Speech. Which? now want these plans to be brought into force as soon as possible.

2.     Which? research: Which? analysed the prevalence of ‘up to’ claims in a commercially available dataset from Ebiquity, of 6,542 home broadband advertisements that had appeared in print between 1 April 2008 and 18 April 2016. The advertisements containing ‘up to’ claims were identified by performing text searches for the expressions ‘up to’, ‘mb’ and ‘meg’ on the text content stored for each advertisement in the dataset. The reported numbers are the proportions of advertisements containing ‘up to’ claims out of all print home broadband advertisements appearing during the specified time period.

3.     Rise in ‘up to’ claims: Graph below represents the number of ‘up to’ claims in broadband print adverts before and after the introduction of the 10% guidance in 2012.



4. Consumers told us they consider speed to be the second most important factor influencing their choice of broadband deal (88%) – beaten only by price at 94%, with nine in ten (88%) believing that speed should be shown in adverts. Populus, on behalf of Which? interviewed 2,339 UK adults online, between 17th and 18th September 2014. Data was weighted to be representative of the UK adult population. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules

5.  Which? research into broadband advertising in June 2015: Which? found that 15.4 million households did not receive the ‘up to’ speeds advertised by broadband providers.

More information.>

6.     Which? Spring 2016 Broadband Satisfaction Survey, research found 33% of broadband customers rated the reliability of their connection as fair to very poor. This was based on a survey of 3,717 broadband, phone and TV customers conducted in December 2015 and January 2016.

7.     Which? ‘Give Us Broadband Speed Guaranteed’ has over 100,000 supporters to date. For more information, visit:

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