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Broadband ads face tighter rules

News, 22 January 2016

LONDON: Tighter rules about how broadband packages are advertised will be introduced from 30 May after two UK regulators found current ads risk confusing and misleading consumers.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Ofcom, the media regulator, carried out a joint study to test consumers' likely understanding of how pricing offers are presented in ads.

These included pricing information about introductory deals, discounts, delivery charges and length of contract.

The findings revealed that four-fifths (81%) of UK consumers were not able to calculate correctly the total cost of a broadband contract while three-quarters (74%) believed that information about one-off and ongoing costs following an introductory period was unclear to some degree.

When asked to recall as much information as they could about a deal after the first viewing of an ad, only 23% correctly identified the total cost per month.

A similar proportion (22%) were still not able to identify the correct total monthly cost after a second viewing of an ad.

The ASA said that it would remain open-minded as to how pricing should be advertised, but it recommends that all upfront and monthly costs are advertised with no more separating out of line rental costs. It also wants the length of the contract length and any post-discount prices to be given greater prominence in ads.

"It's essential we make sure people aren't misled by pricing claims in ads," said Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA.

"That obviously wouldn't be good for them, but nor would it benefit broadband providers, because advertising works better when it is trusted. We'll now be moving quickly, working alongside broadband providers, to clarify the presentation of price information."

However, the Internet Services Providers' Association hit back, arguing that more detailed research was needed to corroborate the findings.

"Beyond adverts, ISPs provide clear information if consumers engage more closely with them, for example by going to their website, visiting a shop, working with comparison and consumer websites or by calling the providers," said Nicholas Lansman, the industry group's secretary general, in comments to the BBC.

Data sourced from ASA, BBC; additional content by Warc staff