Broadband firms could be forced to make sure at least 50% of customers receive the headline 'up to' speed quoted in broadband adverts, under new advertising rules.

Currently just 10% of customers need to get a certain speed to allow a broadband firm to advertise it as its fastest - for example, when an ad promises "up to 17Mb". But research by the advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has found this rule could result in consumers being misled.

The ASA’s research found that while speed is an important factor for consumers when choosing between providers, many are unclear on what speed they would likely get based on the ads they viewed. Now the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which writes advertising rules in the UK, has launched a public consultation on plans to tighten the rules around advertising broadband deals.

The move follows a clampdown last October on broadband suppliers separating the cost of broadband and line rental in their ads. They are now also required to be clearer about contract length, upfront costs and how much you pay after an introductory deal ends.

If your broadband is on a go-slow, see our Boost Broadband Speed guide.

How the rules could be changed

The CAP consultation sets out a number of different ways the rules could be changed to make broadband ads clearer.

They want the public to help decide what maximum speed broadband providers should be allowed to quote in ads, with the main options being:

  • the average download speed at least 50% of customers can get at peak times, or over 24 hours (this would be a 'median' - or mid-point - average rather than the mean)
  • OR the range of download speeds available to 60% of users at peak times, or over 24 hours (this would be calculated from the users in the 20th to 80th percentiles)

In addition to tightening the definition of providers' maximum speed, the CAP proposals would also require adverts making broadband speed claims to urge potential customers to check the actual speed they’re likely to get.

The public consultation is open for 10 weeks, closing on 13 July - you can get involved and have your say here

‘Prevent consumers being misled’

Shahriar Coupal, director of CAP, said: “We take an evidence-based approach to our work. Research commissioned by the ASA persuades us that tougher standards are needed to prevent consumers from being misled by advertised broadband speed claims. 

"For the next 10 weeks, we’re inviting views on four options for change, and remain open to any other options that better manage consumers’ expectations of the broadband speed they’re likely to receive. 

"CAP recognises that advertising can play an early and important part in the journey to choosing a broadband provider. We’re determined to ensure the information it provides, including about broadband speed, is trusted and welcomed by consumers."