Not for the first time, guidance has been published on making broadband speed claims in ads. What is the new “CAP” guidance saying and how does this differ from previous advisory guides such as the two sets of guidelines published by CAP and BCAP in September 2011? Nick Johnson reports.
Who: CAP, BCAP
When: 6 August 2012
Law stated as at: 14 September 2012
The UK's advertising regulatory bodies – CAP and BCAP – published revised guidance on making broadband speed claims in ads.
The guidance is an updated and extended version of a Help Note entitled "Use of speed claims in broadband advertising", which was originally published in September 2011 alongside separate guidance on use of "unlimited" claims in the context of telecoms and broadband services.
The new revisions extend its scope to cover mobile data services with effect from 1 November 2012.
Changes specific to mobile data services
The original Help Note fleshed out the key principles that:
- advertised maximum broadband speeds should be based on the actual experience of the ISP's customers; and that
- advertisers should be able to demonstrate that the speeds claimed are achievable by a reasonable proportion of consumers.
However some of the original guidance could have impacted unfairly on mobile providers, bearing in mind underlying differences in the way the technologies work. For instance, mobile data speed can be influenced by the user's distance from their nearest mast, but also by obstructions and 'clutter' in the user's environment. The revised guidance recognises these key differences and advises, in the context of substantiation, that:
"For mobile networks it may be relevant to test network performance in a wide range of locations representative of where users access mobile broadband services, including indoor and outdoor locations and areas of different signal strength."
The Help Note also includes a few minor amendments that don't relate specifically to mobile data services. In particular:
- There is a change to the section advising that speed claims other than maximum speed claims – for instance average speed claims – don't need to be prefixed with "up to". The new guidance adds a footnote stating that any such claims must be "clearly explained and based on robust and reasonable representative data".
- The Help Note's list of the principal relevant factors affecting speed that marketers are required to take account of has changed from being a non-exhaustive one to an apparently exhaustive list.
- The Help Note suggests that it is acceptable for speed tests to be carried out using virus-free user devices only.
Why this matters:
The Help Note sets out a common approach and framework for speed claims in the mobile data sector.
More generally, the Help Note may also be a useful reference point for marketers in other sectors wishing to use statistical sample data to substantiate a more general claim. Its approach as to what counts as relevant and representative data, its acceptance of data 'normalisation' and other statistical techniques and its approach on the age of data (six monthly updates are suggested in the context of broadband speed data) may all be useful to cite by analogy in other contexts.
See here for the full revised Help Note.