Telecom Adverts Can’t Pull a Fast One on Broadband Speed Claims

June 16 2019, 12:01am, Valerie Flynn, The Sunday Times

The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland (ASAI) is planning new rules on how broadband is marketed to consumers in order to prevent companies making exaggerated claims about the speed of their services, and about their use of fibre-optic cables — a type of network which allows faster speeds.

Draft guidelines say the practice of advertising speeds of “up to” a certain level does not sufficiently alert consumers to the fact that what is experienced by individual customers “can vary significantly”.

This could mean the new guidelines will require companies to state what proportion of their customers actually get the advertised speed 80% of the time.

This weekend the ASAI said the guidelines were not yet finalised and remained under review. If the new rules are adopted, however, several broadband providers will have to amend their marketing strategies.

To date, “fibre” has been permitted as a description of services where part of the network uses fibre-optic cables. However, the draft guidelines note that full fibre to the home (FTTH) is now available in some parts of the country, so “fibre” should be used to describe only FTTH, and “part-fibre” used for other services. About 25% of homes are FTTH-enabled.

Eir currently markets “unlimited superfast fibre broadband” with speeds of “up to 100Mbps”, meaning 100 megabits per second. Last week an Eir salesman tried to sell this product for an address at which FTTH was not available. When asked whether the service would be full fibre to the home, the salesman replied: “Your address is Eir fibre-enabled. You can now avail of Eir fibre broadband.”

Last week, Vodafone sales staff also offered “fibre” to an address where FTTH was not available and confirmed that it was not FTTH only when pressed. Sky sells a product styled “Sky fibre unlimited”, which it says is “superfast” and allows “speeds of up to 100Mbps”.

Vodafone said it was “committed to adhering to the values set out by the ASAI”, adding: “We welcome the clarity that these new guidelines will provide to broadband customers and are extremely happy to comply with them.”

Sky said: “The ASAI has not finalised new guidelines for how broadband can be marketed in Ireland, and we understand there is still very much an open dialogue with broadband providers taking place, therefore it would be inappropriate for Sky to comment at this time. Whatever new guidelines are introduced, Sky Ireland will ensure it fully complies.”

Eir did not respond to a request for comment.

Siro, a wholesale provider of FTTH, supports the ASAI guidelines on the basis that “consumers deserve full information as to what service they are purchasing, particularly as they need increased bandwidth for entertainment, home working and cloud services”.

Market research conducted for SIRO last year found that 68% of households had changed broadband providers in the past two years, with speed the top consideration. More than 70% said they would like a quality mark guaranteeing broadband speeds.