Be rapped over broadband speed claims

Advertising Standards Authority has found the ISP guilty of misleading consumers about broadband connection speeds

Be, the first ISP to launch the next generation of broadband services in the UK, has been hauled up by the Advertising Standards Authority for misleading advertising.

Be claimed in newspaper advertisements that it offered 24Mbps broadband services to customers. But in a verdict published on Wednesday, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) — the government's advertising watchdog — found Be guilty of breaching industry codes on Truthfulness, and on Substantiation.

"We considered that some consumers would reasonably expect to achieve speeds in the range of the headline speed [24Mbps] and might feel misled if they could only achieve speeds of around 8Mbps," said the ASA in an adjudication published on its website. "We concluded that the ad was likely to mislead."

Be became the first ISP in the UK to launch 24Mbps services, known technically as ADSL2+, when it launched services in London in the summer of 2005. The connection speeds supported by ADSL2+ depend in part on the distance from the customer's location to the local telephone exchange, with maximum speeds only achievable over short distances.

Mobile operator O2, which bought Be in June 2006, will now be forced to include a disclaimer in the body copy of its broadband adverts, saying that 24Mbps will not be possible for many users. It previously only did so in the small print.

Be's own figures show that "a significant proportion of users achieved over 16Mbps, especially within 1km of their local exchange". The ISP argued in its defence that the advert only appeared in London newspapers, where readers were more likely to be located closer to their local exchange.

It also produced figures showing that the speed of its 24Mbps connections were far faster than the 8Mbps connections promised by its rivals. But Be's analysis, which benchmarked its services against two unnamed rivals, shows that its speeds were only 76 percent and 141 percent faster than the competition and not three times faster, as described by its headline figures.

O2 told ZDNet UK on Thursday that it accepted the ASA's judgement, and would comply with its instructions in future advertising.

The mobile operator is scheduled to start offering O2-branded broadband services across the UK this year. A spokeswoman for the mobile operator said on Thursday that it hadn't decided how it would market the services. O2's chief technical officer Dave Williams told ZDNet UK last November that the mobile operator would prefer to "underpromise and overdeliver" on broadband speeds once the Be business was fully integrated within O2.

NTL:Telewest, whose complaint led to the ASA's adjudication, appeared pleased with the outcome. A spokesman for the cable operator said: "The current broadband market is extremely complex with all the different speeds, caps and other factors for consumers to consider. While we welcome the competition, ISPs need to keep their services and advertising as transparent as possible and we believe some of our competitors' claims could mislead and confuse."

NTL:Telewest's network is based on a different physical infrastructure from Be's, and is less prone to signal degradation.

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