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Matt Warman MP: Broadband providers 'complicit in fraud' on consumers over broadband speed claims

3 min read

The Advertising Standards Authority should doing more to tackle the problems around Broadband advertising, says Matt Warman MP.

When a company advertises a product, it’s fair enough to highlight the best aspects. Nobody expects objectivity in advertising. But if it’s normal to misrepresent what’s on offer to most consumers, something is broken – and the broadband advertising market is broken.

Consumers have come to expect that ‘Up to 8Mbps’ often means rather less – but the fact is that regulations say that just 10 per cent of users have to be able to receive that speed for the advertising to be acceptable. It’s like walking into a supermarket and choosing the best apple only to have it exchanged at the checkout for the most shrivelled. Broadband providers are complicit in this fraud on 90 per cent of consumers, but it’s the Advertising Standards Authority that needs to get a grip on it.

The good news is that that is just what is in the pipeline, but the bad news is that it’s not obvious what improvements can be made. So here are some suggestions.

First, the advertised broadband speed that a consumer or business receives as a connection enters their premises should be available to the majority of people who sign up for it. That still risks leaving almost half disappointed, so for good measure two thirds of consumers should be within say 20 per cent of the headline speed.

There is a risk that this approach favours cable providers, such as Virgin, whose connections provide much more consistent speeds at or around their advertised maximums. If this has the effect of incentivising more fibre to the premise or cable, so much the better.

Second, an advertised fibre connection should be entirely fibre – that is to say the fibre to the cabinet options favoured for much of the UK roll-out should not count. The aim of this is twofold: consumers who pay for ‘fibre broadband’ shouldn’t actually be paying for copper broadband, and providers who do offer fibre to the premise should not be equated with those who don’t.

These two changes should not be revolutionary, and so it’s disappointing to hear that the ASA is not currently minded to take either of them up. It is not required to listen to Parliament either, which may or may not be a bad thing: but I hope in my debate tomorrow enough Members of Parliament from all parties make it clear that there’s a basic point at stake here – on broadband or any other issue, consumers should have a fighting chance of getting what they’ve paid for.

Matt Warman is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Boston and Skegness

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