Who: Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
When: November 2016
Law stated as at: 24 January 2017
Back in November 2016, the ASA received yet another complaint about a broadband provider’s advertisement of its broadband speed claims.
This time, JT Group Limited (‘JT’) was the subject of the complaint, with two rival providers, Jersey Airtel and Sure (Guernsey) Ltd, challenging JT’s latest adverts (two press ads and a poster) as being misleading. Its competitors questioned whether JT was actually able to substantiate its claim that it was “Guernsey’s fastest network”.
JT explained that it was making its claims based on the results of a number of speed tests that had been conducted by members of the public in Spring 2016 as part of the ‘JT 4G Challenge’. The Challenge was open to all Guernsey and Alderney residents, with a prize available to the individual who had the fastest speed test, irrespective of network. The Challenge was conducted using a speed test app which was independent and carried no network bias. The tests were carried out by Guernsey and Alderney residents/members of the public who tested the mobile operators’ networks. JT used in their ads the averages of all the speed tests submitted by the public, together with the best speeds achieved to ensure that the results showed the everyday user experience that consumers were likely to obtain in Guernsey and Alderney. JT felt that the test entries reflected where the population of Guernsey lived and was reflective of the three mobile networks available.
The ASA did not believe that the data collected from the Challenge was representative of the speeds customers of different networks would achieve at different times of day and at different locations across Guernsey. They therefore felt that JT’s claim had not been substantiated. Furthermore, the ASA believed that the adverts were likely to mislead the public because they considered that consumers were likely to interpret JT’s claim, that it was “Guernsey’s fastest network”, to mean that JT was the fastest mobile operator in Guernsey, in that the download speeds customers could achieve with JT mobile broadband were faster than those they could experience with its competitors, which wasn’t necessarily true.
The ASA concluded the ads breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 (Misleading advertising), 3.7 (Substantiation) and 3.33 (Comparisons with identifiable competitors) and so could no longer be used in their current form. The ASA told JT to ensure that its comparative speed claims were based on adequate substantiation that was representative of the speeds achieved by users of each mobile network across Guernsey.
ASA’s call for a change in the advertising of broadband speed claims
Following on from this latest complaint about the advertising of broadband speed claims, the ASA, in November 2016, published independent research it had commissioned into consumers’ understanding of broadband speed claims made in ads. This research underpins its call for a change to the way broadband speed claims are advertised to ensure consumers are not misled.
The research tested whether the current regulatory standards set by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) are effective in protecting the public from misleading claims in this area. The current guidance permits headline speed claims that are achievable by at least 10% of customers, where they are preceded with the words “up to” and qualified, as appropriate, to help manage consumers’ expectations of achievable speeds.
The research, found that:
- Speed is an important factor for a significant proportion of consumers who are making decisions between providers.
- Levels of knowledge and understanding of broadband speeds vary, but are low overall, with many not knowing what speed they need to carry out daily online tasks.
- Most understand that the higher the number in the ad, the higher the speed of the service, but many are unclear on what this means for them and what speed they would likely achieve.
- Crucially, the research shows that despite that uncertainty, most consumers believe they are likely to receive a speed at or close to the headline speed claim when, for many, that is not likely to be the case.
This research has formed the basis of the ASA’s decision to change the advertising of broadband speed claims. Guy Parker, ASA Chief Executive, said “…our new research indicates that speed claims in ads contribute to consumers’ expectations of the broadband speeds they’ll receive, but their expectations are not being met. That needs to change.”
Why this matters:
Broadband providers will need to watch this space. CAP is due to report publicly on this matter in Spring 2017. For now, it’s clear that the ASA is concerned about broadband claims being misleading to consumers, so broadband providers should already be thinking carefully about any comparative advertisements planned in this field “to ensure that [they] aren’t over-promising on their speed claims” which Shahriar Coupal, Director of CAP, has highlighted is a material concern in ads coming from this sector.