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Broadband Ads: End of the line... (rental)?

26 October 2016

From 31 October 2016, broadband ads will need to be much clearer in relation to price claims.

From 31 October 2016, broadband ads will need to be much clearer in relation to price claims.

A recent survey conducted on behalf of the ASA and Ofcom showed that, despite the best efforts of CAP, Clearcast and the ASA over the past few years, a significant proportion of consumers are still confused and sometimes misled by price claims made in ads for broadband services.

Only 23% of participants in the survey were able to correctly identify the total monthly cost after viewing an ad for the first time. While this improved drastically when viewing the ad a second time, a significant proportion were still unable to accurately identify the total monthly cost which they would have to pay throughout the contract period. In fact, around three quarters of those sampled believed that information about one-off costs and on-going costs, which would apply after the end of an introductory period, was presented in a way which was either fairly unclear or very unclear.

Another bugbear was the separation of line rental costs from the main price claims. It seems that many didn’t realise they would have to pay the cost of line rental on top of the stated price. With the cost of line rental increasing significantly over the past few years, this has become increasingly annoying from the consumer’s point of view.

During the first half of 2016, the ASA engaged with the industry, various stakeholders and consumer groups on these issues, to see whether and how it should update its approach to ads for broadband services.

The upshot is that, while the CAP and BCAP Codes themselves have not changed, the ASA has decided to adopt a “new, tougher approach” (to quote ASA Chief Exec, Guy Parker). It announced its new approach back in May, and gave advertisers a few months to fall in line. That grace period is now coming to an end, and, from 31 October, the ASA’s new “tougher” approach will kick in.

So, from 31 October, the ASA ‘recommends’ that broadband ads which include price claims:

• Give greater prominence to up-front costs (such as installation costs)
• Show ‘all-inclusive’ up-front and monthly costs (which should usually include line rental)
• Ensure that the contract length and any post-introductory prices are given greater prominence

Most broadband service providers have taken this new approach on board by now, and consumers can expect to see clearer broadband pricing in all ads from the end of this month; however, it’s worth remembering that the rules themselves haven’t changed, and the average consumer still has to be treated as someone who is reasonably well informed, observant and circumspect, so we hope the ASA doesn’t get too carried away with its new tougher approach.

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