Broadband companies will need to be more careful with claims of 'unlimited' broadband services or maximum speeds following new guidelines that apply to future advertisements.
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which is overseen by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), issued the new guidance on Thursday. It is due to come into full effect on 1 April 2012, and was the result of an eight month public consultation.
"This new guidance directly responds to consumer concerns by setting an appropriately high bar for advertisers who want to make speed and 'unlimited' claims in ads," James Best, chairman of CAP, said in a statement. "Advertising is only effective if consumers trust the messages they see and hear. This guidance will help deliver that."
Under the new guidance, claims of unlimited broadband can only be made if a user is not charged, or has their service suspended, for exceeding a fair usage policy (FUP) or traffic management policy on an unlimited tariff.
However, the terms do allow for an ISP to use traffic management, but only if it does not unduly affect the user.
Consumer watchdog Which? said that the suggestions did not go far enough, and still left customers at the mercy of ISPs.
"Unlimited should mean unlimited at your normal broadband speed, but ISPs will be allowed to slow down a supposedly 'unlimited' connection once a customer goes over a certain threshold," Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, said in a statement.
CAP also issued new guidance over the speeds claimed by broadband providers in their advertising. The body said that the provider should be able to demonstrate that a maximum speed claim is achievable by at least ten percent of users and that additionally, advertisements should include additionally information to ensure consumers are not misled.
"Where relevant, this includes information that bears out that a significant proportion of subscribers receive a speed that falls considerably short of what consumers might reasonably expect the service to offer," CAP said.
However, Lloyd added that these rules were equally insubstantial and would not help frustrated consumers that are not getting the speeds they expected.
"Broadband providers have just been given the green light to mislead consumers. The rules say that providers don't have to state what range of speeds most of their customers' experience. That means advertising campaigns can now be based on the experience of a privileged few. If just one in 10 customers get access to the top speeds advertised, that's within the guidelines," Lloyd said.
"Ofcom should step in where the advertising regulators have failed, and make sure consumers can't be misled about the broadband service they're paying for," he added.