Broadband speeds are the first casualty of truth

by Steve Blum • , ,

Internet service offerings slow down when service providers are forced to advertise accurate speed levels. In particular, the speed of teaser packages, designed to lure in price conscious subscribers, fall by 41%. That’s the conclusion of a British consumer group, following a study of how ISP advertising practices changed in the wake of a new U.K. regulation that forces them to make accurate service claims.

The Consumers’ Association says the down shift was sudden, coming soon after the new rules took effect…

The majority of broadband providers have been forced to cut the headline speeds they advertise when selling deals, following recent changes to advertising rules, according to new [Consumers’ Association] research.

An analysis of the biggest broadband providers found that, since new rules were introduced by the Committees of Advertising Practice in May, 11 major suppliers have had to cut the advertised speed of some of their deals, with the cheapest deals dropping by 41%…

Previously, suppliers were able to advertise broadband deals which claimed ‘up-to’ speeds that only one in 10 customers would ever reach.

But the new advertising rules mean that at least half of customers must now be able to get an advertised average speed, even during peak times (8-10pm).

There’s no equivalent requirement in the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission punted the consumer protection ball to the Federal Trade Commission. Even when it subsidises incumbent telcos, like AT&T and Frontier Communications, to provide 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload service in rural areas, it only expects them to hit 80% of that speed 80% of the time.

The California legislature passed a generic online truth in advertising law last year, but didn’t specifically call out Internet service or ISPs. Enforcement is up to California attorney general Xavier Becerra, who hasn’t done anything with it yet.

In practice, ISPs on this side of the Atlantic can advertise any speed they want, regardless of actual performance, so long as they qualify it with “up to” and back it with a long list of exceptions and conditions, buried somewhere on their websites.

Shouldn’t we expect the truth too?