ASA acknowledges factors other than bandwidth

Virgin rapped for ‘misleading’ broadband speed ads

The UK advertising watchdog, the ASA, has upheld six out of ten complaints against broadband provider Virgin Media relating to advertising campaigns that made speed claims against rival internet providers.

The Virgin advertising in question appeared between September and November last year. Some of the claims included " It’s official, Ofcom have proven our fibre optic broadband is around twice as fast as BT, Sky and Talk Talk’s comparable packages," and "Fibre optic broadband from Virgin Media. The fastest in the UK."

A number of members of the public complained to the ASA as well as BT and hosting provider Xilo Communications. BT challenged the claim of "twice as fast" as BT, arguing that Virgin selectively failed to compare the fibre-based BT Infinity.

Three members of the public objected to the "fastest in the UK" advertising given that other providers offered faster speeds while other complaints pointed out that faster upload speeds were also found elsewhere.

The ASA upheld complaints relating to Virgin’s selective comparison of broadband packages, saying that Virgin ought to have stated prominently which services were being compared. The ASA also found the "fastest in the UK" claim misleading because it is indeed possible to get faster broadband in some locations.

Most interestingly, however, was that the ASA sided with BT on the nuanced argument regarding the performance of internet services such as gaming and web browsing. It’s been typical of ISP advertising to make all sorts of claims about a high performance internet experienced based on the actual bandwidth alone.

However BT’s argument that actual performance has a lot to do with other systems such as DNS name servers for web services and latency for gaming was ultimately successful which may herald a new age of ISPs needing to be careful about making bandwidth the only topic of discussion.

"Because we considered the claim suggested optimum gaming performance was dependent solely on connection speed, but the evidence did not show that was the case, we concluded that the claim had not been substantiated and that the ad was misleading," ASA said in a statement upholding a finding of misleading advertising regarding online gaming performance.

Ultimately, however, all that came of the ASA’s statement was a statement that the adverts, which ran nine months ago, "must not appear again in their current form." Virgin will probably manage to hold back the tears.

However the ASA’s new nuanced position of other factors that affect internet performance will hopefully give ISPs some pause when it comes to running bandwidth-focused advertising in the future.

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