Broadband ads to become clearer after May 30th rules change
21 January 2016
Broadband ads are to become clearer from the end of May under tighter rules to stop companies "confusing and misleading" customers about the true cost of deals.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the typical ad separating out the broadband price from the cost of line rental, instead of giving an up-front total monthly charge, is likely to break the rules from May 30.
The move follows joint research by the ASA and Ofcom that found ads currently screening for fixed broadband are likely to confuse and mislead customers.
The study found that 81% of viewers were unable to correctly work out the total cost of a broadband contract, while just over a third (34%) recalled information about the price but only partial information or an incorrect figure for the broadband service or line rental costs.
Some 22% were still unable to relay the total monthly cost after the second viewing, suggesting around 4.3 million UK households are potentially unable to work out what they would be paying.
Almost two thirds (64%) of those who could not correctly work out the total monthly cost, despite a second viewing, thought the broadband price was the total charge and line rental costs did not apply.
Furthermore, 74% said information about the price of introductory deals, discounts, activation, delivery charges and the length of the contract was either fairly or very unclear.
The ASA said the findings showed that the current approach typically taken by advertisers “is likely to mislead consumers and therefore, from May 30, will in all likelihood break the rules”.
The watchdog said it remained open-minded about how pricing should be advertised but will suggest that providers stop separating out line rental and give greater prominence to the contract length, any post-discount pricing and up-front costs.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “It’s essential we make sure people aren’t misled by pricing claims in broadband ads. That obviously wouldn’t be good for them, but nor would it benefit broadband providers, because advertising works better when it’s trusted.
“We’ll now be moving quickly, working alongside broadband providers, to clarify the presentation of price information.”
Ofcom chief executive Sharon White said: “Ofcom wants to see clear and accurate broadband prices for consumers.
“Our research with the ASA shows many people are confused by complicated adverts and offers, so we welcome the ASA’s plans to simplify broadband advertising.
“Ofcom has already introduced measures to ensure customers receive accurate information on broadband speeds when they take out a contract. We’ll continue to work with industry and other regulators to ensure that broadband customers are treated fairly and have the best possible information to make the right choices.”
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: “Simplifying how broadband prices are advertised is a step in the right direction, but the advertising of broadband speeds must also be tackled.
“Broadband is an essential part of life and millions of homes are not getting the speed they expect. We want the advertising authorities and the regulator to change the rules and ensure consumers get the speeds they are promised by their provider.”
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Misleading broadband ads have been duping consumers for too long.
“Burying the cost of line rental in the small print of adverts or not properly explaining the duration of a contract are blatant attempts to mislead people. It is confusing and makes it difficult for consumers to know how much they’ll be charged or to compare deals from across the market.
“Our evidence shows some people are paying up to six and a half times more for broadband than advertised. Customers are being promised one thing and charged for another.
“If the ASA can get broadband providers to advertise all-inclusive up-front costs and make contract lengths clear it will help consumers make informed choices.”
Photo from Rui Vieira / PA Wire