British ad watchdog bites down on ISPs

by Steve Blum • ,

How many times have you gone on line to figure out how much Internet service from a major service provider will cost, and come away even more confused than when you started? If your answer is every freaking time, then you’re floating right in the middle of the mainstream. British regulators tested consumers on their ability to figure out the total cost of an Internet service contract, and found that 80% couldn’t do so.

As a result, the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority is setting new standards for ISP ads, according to the BBC

To make sure broadband providers ensure they stay within the new rules, the ASA recommends that future ads should:

  • Show all-inclusive, upfront and monthly costs, with no separating out of line rental prices
  • Give greater prominence to the contract length and any post-discount pricing
  • Give greater prominence to upfront costs

Commenting on the changes, ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: "We recognise the importance of broadband services to people’s lives at work and at home. The findings of our research, and other factors we took into account, showed the way prices have been presented in broadband ads is likely to confuse and mislead customers.

Problems with ads included introductory prices that rocketed up after just one month, “free” services like phone calls or security that became billable after the first month and undisclosed charges for physical line connections, on top of bandwidth costs.

The details are a bit different here in California, but the underlying subscriber acquisition imperative drives the same sort of ISP behavior. And, ISPs should remember, the same regulatory impulse.