Misleading broadband ads

My thoughts on ISPs and how they’re whiney little kids who like to throw their toys out of the pram have been previously documented on this site. Apparently the advertising industry is set to get involved, and, according to NMA, is poised to ask the public for their thoughts on how broadband suppliers advertise their services.

Here are my thoughts on this prospect.

That article states that…

Concerns centre on claims made by suppliers about the maximum speed customers can expect to receive from their broadband service against the speeds actually experienced.

While I don’t disagree that this issue needs to be addressed, I certainly wouldn’t say it’s the most important issue with how services are advertised.

Broadband suppliers need to do a better job of explaining that there are a lot of factors that will affect the speed you’ll get from your location. Line quality, distance from the exchange and the equipment in your house are but a few of the elements that will determine how the speed you get differs from that promised by the service.

But that’s not what concerns me most about how these service are advertised.

*subject to a fair use policy

You can’t have missed this on the advertisements; unlimited downloads which are subject to a fair use policy. The most straightforward translation of this is that there is a limit, but it’s a soft limit and we want to hide it in the small print.

Why is this legal?!?

To answer that question we need to look at the translation ISPs want us to use…

The soft limit imposed by the policy will only be reached by a small percentage of users and the policy is in place to ensure a fair level of service for all customers.

Why don’t the authorities see that this is still false advertising, even if it’s only false for a limited number of customers?

I’d love to know the percentage of the population for whom one-size-fits-all gloves are too small. I’m sure it’s fairly minuscule because… they either make them large enough for it to be accurate, or out of a material that will adjust to the wearer.

The recent and forthcoming increases in usage of streaming video and other high-bandwidth services are going to continue to show the issues with our current infrastructure. I know several people, including myself, who do not watch broadcast TV. Instead we use services like the BBC iPlayer, 4OD and TVCatchup to watch only what we want to watch, when we want to watch it. We are still very much at the start of this shift in viewing habits, but the only thing holding it back is the data delivery infrastructure. I know from all-too-frequent experience how annoying it is to watch streaming video on a slow internet connection…




So why are we letting ISPs hide their limitations when advertising their services?

My theory is that the ISPs went to the ASA and whined that they don’t have the capacity required to support everything their customers are demanding but that in order to meet the governments quota for getting a certain percentage of the UK online by some arbitrary deadline they need to be able to bend the truth. Unlimited is a very compelling word when it comes to advertising.

My plan would be complete honesty, something I try to stick to at all times. Tell users they’re limited, but do it in an educational way. Ensure they know why they’re limited, and why they don’t care. Create packages that grow as your usage grows. Create an unlimited package and charge an appropriate premium.

I for one have no problem paying for what I get, so long as I get what I’m paying for. I’d happily pay 3, 4 or even 5 times what I do now for my broadband if I could have guaranteed speed and a data transfer limit that allows me to do whatever I want to do. I don’t care if it’s called unlimited or, “like, totally limited”, I just want it to work and work well.

All companies should be required to stick to the same rules so it’s an even playing field, but that doesn’t mean competition will be any less fierce. Given a suitable framework within which to operate, marketing departments can still be as creative as they always have been, while ensuring that they’re not lying to their customer, existing or potential.

I think this complete transparency would be in everybody’s interest, and would also give ISPs an incentive to adequately cater for heavy users — a breed of user which is likely to experience a population explosion in the next few years.