Broadband Adverts Guidance

September 28, 2011

New guidance issued by the bodies responsible for writing the Advertising Codes, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), was published on 29 September. The new guidance states that services should not be described as ‘unlimited’ if users are charged or have their service suspended for exceeding a certain threshold (eg 2000 texts). Broadband providers may still manage traffic on their services, but if it affects users unduly, that too ‘will likely render an “unlimited” claim misleading’.

The guidance also states that maximum speed claims for broadband should be based on the actual experience of users. In future, marketers should be able to demonstrate that the speeds claimed in their advertising can be achieved by ‘a reasonable proportion of consumers’.

The CAP has published its own summary of the guidance which is available below.

‘In summary, the Help Note on “unlimited” states the term can only be used if:

  • The user incurs no additional charge or suspension of service as a consequence of exceeding a usage threshold associated with a ‘fair usage policy’ (FUP), a traffic management policy or similar; and
  • Limitations that do affect the speed or usage of the service are moderate only and are clearly explained in the advertisement.

In summary, the Help Note on speed claims states that:

  • If a maximum speed claim is made, advertisers should be able to demonstrate that the speed is achievable for at least 10% of customers.
  • Advertisers should also include in the ad appropriate, additional information to accompany a maximum speed claim to ensure the average consumer is not misled. Where relevant, this includes information that bears out that a significant proportion of subscribers receive a speed that falls considerably short of what consumers might reasonably expect the service to offer. ‘

The creation of the Help Notes follows a request by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who asked CAP to review advertising claims in the telecommunications sector following complaints about whether consumers could achieve advertised speeds and “unlimited” usage of services as claimed. The guidance, which was produced following a full public consultation, will help the ASA Council when considering complaints about speed and usage claims in ads in future.

The guidance comes fully into effect on 1 April 2012. CAP states that advertisers should produce any new campaigns in line with the guidance.

Responding to the new guidelines, Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, says:

“Broadband providers have just been given the green light to mislead consumers. The rules say that providers don’t have to state what range of speeds most of their customers experience. That means advertising campaigns can now be based on the experience of a privileged few. If just one in 10 customers get access to the top speeds advertised, that’s within the guidelines.

The clamp down on ‘unlimited’ claims also hasn’t gone far enough. ‘Unlimited’ should mean unlimited at your normal broadband speed, but Internet Service Providers will be allowed to slow down a supposedly ‘unlimited’ connection once a customer goes over a certain threshold.

Ofcom should step in where the advertising regulators have failed, and make sure consumers can’t be misled about the broadband service they’re paying for.”

Andrew Ferguson, co-founder of, had a different analysis:

‘The new guidance notes for claims of “unlimited” and broadband speed in advertising are to be welcomed, certainly some of the worst practices may be curtailed, and a more realistic picture be given to consumers. Though the benefit is limited, as consumers should already be given a personalised speed estimate when signing up to broadband, i.e. specific to their telephone line/address.”

The key points are:

> 1. “Unlimited” can only be used for a service where the user is not charged extra for going over some figure, and there is no suspension of service for heavy use.

> 2. Traffic management to slow down some types of activity are still allowed, but where these slow a service down, more than the expected off-peak to peak slow down, it should be detailed in the advertising.

> 3. If a provider claims “unlimited web browsing” this includes all browser based activity, e.g. video streaming, so if that has its own limit this must be clearly detailed in the advert.

> 4. If a maximum speed for a service is claimed, it must be achievable for at least 10% of customers on the service. e.g. what used to be advertised as an up to 8 Mbps service, would now be an up to 7 Mbps service.

> 5. Broadband providers are expected to be able to prove speed claims, through their own or independent analysis, and reflect the geographic area they are advertising in., with regular reviews to reflect their current user base.

> 6. Speed claims in adverts refer to measured throughput speeds, unlike the case where connection speeds alone are generally advertised.

> 7. Mobile broadband services while not covered by the guidelines are expected to attempt to follow the spirit of the guidelines.

> The extra degree of explanation required in the body copy for non-broadcast marketing may be a challenge in terms of avoiding wordy explanations that no-one reads or understands, and one concern is that this will lead to a de-emphasis on speed and much more lifestyle based advertising. Additionally smaller providers may be discouraged from advertising in local press/radio due to the new requirements to prove any speed claims, something the largest providers with greater resources will have no problem doing.

> The most positive aspect may be that people will realise that ADSL2+ only leads to a doubling in speeds for a small fraction of customers, and thus encourage people to look at the superfast services available, such as Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC) and other products like cable broadband, thus increasing take-up and in time leading to further investment in roll-out.”