back to article BT ad banned for 'misleading' customers over broadband speeds

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a BT television advert, after the watchdog concluded that customers had been misled by the telecom giant’s broadband speed claims. ASA said that the TV ad in question featured a voice-over that claimed BT was “rolling out up to 20 meg speeds” to provide punters with “ …


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  1. Jason Bloomberg

    Dog Bites Dog

    "The company’s rivals – Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin – were among the 17 complainants who contacted ASA about the ad’s 20Mb claims"

    It's fair enough attacking rivals when there's a case to be had, and I expect they are all as likely to bite each other, but it doesn't seem any of them are particularly good at keeping their own houses in order or being entirely clear or forthright as to what their service limitations are.

    Virgin Media recently informed me I could get a number of extra TV channels "free" if I upgraded my service which required a payment :-)

    1. Mark C 2
      Paris Hilton

      @Jason Bloomberg

      Can't you ask them to record the conversation and then make a statement either:

      a). It is not free.

      b). It is free.

      If b). Ask them to provide it, permanently, free of charge or you will consult the ASA / Citizens Advice and request a copy of the recording as evidence.

      That'll learn 'em.

      Paris...she gives it away for free.

  2. James 93


    Nice to see that on only 17 complaints from which included rival companies that they start an investigation, i wonder how many average joe complaints it would have taken to do something about it...

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Answer: 1

      I made a complaint to the ASA about an advert - I think it was also BT - that seemed to suggest that with the ISPs software it was safe to let children browse unsupervised. I believe mine was the only complaint and they still investigated. The whole process was amazingly clear and transparent. These people really are one of the best consumer protection organisations.

      1. Keris

        ASA and the "ordinary bloke"

        I too have made a couple of complaints about adverts on TV. Both were acknowledged, and although neither was upheld (the companies satisfied the ASA that the ads were 'reasonable') they were investigated and I received notifications and explanations. It did take quite a time, but I was satisfied that I had been heard. In both cases the number of complainants was not high (under a hundred), but the number of complaints was irrelevant to the case (I gathered that the adjudicators didn't even see the numbers or who made the complaints, only the complaints themselves).

    2. Liam Johnson


      That just proves the ASA was correct to ban the add - almost everyone has obvioulsy been misled by it!

  3. smudge

    It's a shame...

    ...they can't ban adverts just for featuring repulsive characters. Then we wouldn't have seen a BT ad for years and years....

    3 meg here on the edge of St Albans. Quote from BT Openreach engineer: "That's pretty good for round here." FFS!

    1. Yossarian

      It's a shame...

      First priority is that f**king go compare idiot!!!

      They can play wall to wall crap BT adverts if they just get rid of that git.

      Whoever came up with that advert needs to get every sexual disease going.

      Followed closely by the idiots who "sell any car"...

      Mine's the 16Mb+ pipe that talks Deutsch... Sorry

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  4. Anonymous Bastard

    Any "up to" advertising is misleading

    So ban them all! There I feel better.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      RE: Any "up to" advertising is misleading

      How is it misleading?

      How would you present it?

      Just askin...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Paris Hilton

        how about

        using the word "typical"

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Or how about "between"

        "Up to 8meg" means "between 0 and 8meg" but for some reason the advertisers never say that. "Between 7 and 8meg" would actually provide useful information.

        1. Anonymous Bastard

          I was thinking "average"

          ...but "typical" and "between" are even better suggestions.

          Maybe in the future a canny advertiser will brag about low latency, that's another easily digestible metric which can be competed with, and has the added bonus of being useful.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            can't use typical

            Because it has a specific definition in advertising. In order to say typical, a certain %age of their customers *must* receive that speed, not more and not less.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        @How is it misleading?

        It doesn't indicate what proportion if any of the traffic ever gets to the theoretical maximum

        It doesn't indicate the customers typical experience for most (that's well over 50% in case you don't understand) of their time online. You work in IT, right?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          Erm, most means very specifically more than half - not "well over 50%". You can do maths, right?

      4. Lou Gosselin

        Re: How would you present it?

        Average would be acceptable, but median would be even better since it represents the typical speed without bias.

        These are rather obvious, I and dare say the reason advertisers do not use them is because they are not that interested in revealing accurate numbers in the first place.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down

        RE: Any "up to" advertising is misleading

        How about "The minimum speed is ..."

        Its blindingly obvious really. So obvious that OFCOM SHOULD HAVE INSISTED ON IT FOR THE LAST 10 YEARS. Just another regulator failing to do what they're paid for. Utterly, utterly useless.

        Mind you, how 17 complainants can have such disproportionate influence beggars belief. Its certainly not democracy at work. Not that we live in a democracy...

  5. AC-This-Isn't-Facebook
    Thumb Up

    Title Required

    I welcome this decision, but more needs to be done.

    Plenty of companies out there mislead customers everyday, especially with unlimited this, and unlimited that, often neglecting to point out FUP's - something which Mobile Networks are terrible for, for example.

    It's about time there was a crack down on this kind of thing, they are pretty much lying to people.

  6. Neil Greatorex

    This "up to" lark has to stop.

    and stop now. It's about time they are forced to advertise accurately. It's not beyond the wit of BT engineers to advise the real speed on your line. Even their bloody speed checker site gives you an "up to" speed, in my case "up to" 8Mbps, though the speed monitoring device I have attached shows I get 1.84Mbps MAX and not a single bit more, at peak times significantly less :-(

    “rolling out up to 20 meg speeds” - Yeah right, there's not even a date given for my exchange:

    There is currently no 21CN migration date for your PSTN service.


    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      We need better measurements:

      The difference between 20Mb/s and 4Mb/s is, in the majority of domestic situations, only relevant for large downloads or multiple users (e.g. family members) on the same connection.

      How about a meaningful measurement? Video channels would be a good measure - a video channel being, say, the delivery of std def video with less than 5 stutters per hour, or 5 seconds total stutter per hour. Then I could order '3 video channel' internet for my family. Any period when a connection is not capable of '1 channel' could reasonably be considered not to be broadband at all, just some sort of low speed, high jitter, always on connection. For instance, my ISP - SKY - struggles to keep a single 256Kbps radio channel going --- it is almost as bad as DAB between 16:00 and 20:00.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        RE: Better measurements

        " Video channels would be a good measure - a video channel being, say, the delivery of std def video with less than 5 stutters per hour, or 5 seconds total stutter per hour. Then I could order '3 video channel' internet for my family."

        Yeah but that won't give a reflection of how much data is being used or the total quality of service received. So I suggest equating it to something the size of a fridge for the bandwidth say 1 fridge per mbps of bandwidth and a bag of frozen peas to represent the usage allowance with 1 bag of peas = 1Gb.

        That way people will be able to say I have 4 fridges and 25 bags of frozen peas of internet.


      2. max allan


        Meaningful to whom precisely?

        I can probably squeeze a "std def" (I assume you mean standard definition, which could mean anything from 320x240 to 640x480 to different people) channel of black with some good encoding/compression down the 256K channel you're complaining won't work for radio.

        But then, stream a normal film with an enormous bitrate (co compression), add in (uncompressed) 7.1 surround sound and you'll be lucky to stream it on a 20Mbit connection running at full speed.

        It's still not going to help when the carrier advertises "up to 10 meaningful measurements worth of bandwidth" and you find you can only get less than one at peak time. They said "up to" and you're getting somewhere below the limit, you got what you're paying for.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "though the speed monitoring device I have attached "

      With the what now?

      Sounds like you might have problems with internal cabling.

      1. Neil Greatorex

        Hello to you

        I'm taking part in nationwide broadband speed monitoring, I won't say with whom, but I'm sure someone knows :-)

        No problems with my internal cabling I can assure you.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      forced to advertise accurately

      How exactly would that work? Personalised adverts for every building in the country?

  7. Samuel Williams

    Up to = less than

    I was in a nasty chain store the other day which had a massive "always up to 60% off" sign painted across one wall. Surely that's true of everywhere? 0% off is still "up to 60%". It should read "never more than 60% off"...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      What do you want to buy

      A half empty glass or a half full glass?

      No one forces anyone to buy any of this shit anyway.

  8. richard 69

    yep, it's horseshite

    'up to' - what a joke, maybe the daily mail needs to run a piece about this 'up to' garbage and have some of their middle class quotes from enraged vicars in berkshire. i may actually back them because it's a nationwide issue where customers are being sold fluff:

    'heres your new car sir, it does up to 120 mph and up to 50mpg'

    oh, and someone please just murder that couple from the bt ads so we can see a big funeral - 'BT, bringing the family together'

    1. Chronos

      Re: yep, it's horseshite

      "maybe the daily mail needs to run a piece about this 'up to' garbage"

      ..which will then only be read by Daily Mail readers. You see the problem with your idea?

      "'heres your new car sir, it does up to 120 mph and up to 50mpg'"

      Good analogy! The national speed limit is 70MPH and your fuel economy depends on you not driving like a prat. These are givens, as are variable bit rates over distance to people who understand DSL technology.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    slightly off topic

    We are getting more advert time on our tvs because ad revenue is dropping.

    But there is no correlation being drawn between the falling effectiveness of adverts and their lack of quality / annoying nature / untrue content.

    If we had a world where that decision to allow more advertising time on the tele had involved consumer representations then maybe we could have demanded more honesty for our greater eyeball time.

    The BT couple make me think of buying gold blend, and how much BT just make me cringe at their BS.

    Advertising folk are right up there with estate agents and traffic wardens!

  10. James 139


    I always thought they should ban the advert on the grounds its encouraging people to hack into other peoples wifi access, as the advert implies that the estate agent is using the home owners broadband.

    If he were using a 3G modem, then having BT broadband wouldnt make it go faster anyway.

    1. Steven Cuthbertson


      I've never watched that advert and thought of the estate agent using the premises' broadband. I've always made the assumption that he'd be on a 3G modem, and the advert was fundamentally dishonest and misleading because of that. Then again, it's an advert. Who expects truth from adverts? They are usually viewed with the same level of honesty and integrity as politicians.

      And please, please don't get me started on the redefinition of the word 'unlimited'....

  11. Shades

    This is why...

    ...for all the stick Virgin Media get, which from my experience* is completely undeserved, I cannot really fault them**. They advertise 10Mb, I pay for 10Mb and I get 10Mb.

    A friend is waiting for her BT hub to turn up and I can't wait to see how much she actually gets of the "12Mb" line she's paying .

    * Cable connection

    ** Apart from their brief dalliance with Phorm, and I don't even mind their daytime bandwidth restrictions.

    1. Oliver 7
      Thumb Up

      Hear hear

      Does what it says on the tin.

      (...bandwidth throttling notwithstanding of course, however the clear message from VM is to do your downloading overnight.)

  12. Rogerborg

    Virgin has a cheek

    Since they throttle you so hard during "peak time" (about half the day) that 10 minutes of usage sees you drop to 1/4 of the speed that you're paying for, for the next 5 hours.

    Their "10Mbit/s" service is therefore *at best* a 5Mbit/s or so if you actually try to use it. Cue "I'll come back when you have none" jokes.

    Unsurprisingly, the ASA couldn't understand that, even when I provided them with graphs and everything, and rejected my complaint about Virgin's advertising. Maybe BT would like to take another poke at it...

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Now can we have someone look at Virgins 'fibre optic' claim ? Or have they figured out a way of transmitting light down copper co-ax ?

  14. Dave Bell

    About time

    This looks as if it might be the first step on getting some honesty.

    It's a long road.

  15. Paul Westerman
    Thumb Down


    By Jove, I hate those ads. Have you seen the football one? ARRRGH!

    1. James 139

      sadly yes

      And that last grinning pillock, whoever he is, makes me want to thump him one.

  16. Dave Bell

    Meanwhile, in a sidebar near you...

    Virgin Media advertising, and I suspect they're comparing their future dream with their competitors' current reality (on average). But tough luck if Virgin Media's wet string isn't running past your house.

  17. adrianww

    As everyone else seems to be saying...

    ...the advertising of broadband speeds and services needs cleaning up across the board. They're all a bunch of lying poltroons taking advantage of what is, largely, a technically naive user base. Most ordinary punters in the UK wouldn't really understand the first thing about broadband speeds if you hit them with a stick, so misleading advertising is even more of an issue.

    It's also really annoying to see this kind of advertising when you happen to live in a rural area where even 1 meg (or half a meg) is good going - assuming that you can get any kind of broadband service at all. Especially when you know full well that none of the companies involved in this particular circle jerk are ever going to want to provide any kind of better service ("oh no, we can't do that, it wouldn't be economical sir") and yet, at the same time, you have thick-headed and cloth-eared Government ministers wanting more and more unavoidable, official paperwork completing online (with no offline alternative) while the corporate world just blithely assumes that absolutely everybody has at least a 10 meg service straight into a major colo somewhere.

    Insufferable tossers the lot of 'em.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    No adding up...


    " BT did not provide sufficient evidence to support its statement in the commercial."


    "the ad were backed up by independent data from broadband monitoring outfit Epitro and an individual statistician."

    So either the watchdog didn't see this evidence, or believed it was utter bullshit. You choose.

  19. Desk Jockey

    What about the tie in?

    My personal bugbear is that the mobile internet crowd and the nastier ISPs like BT try to tie their customers in for 12 months. Surely this is a con that should be ruthlessly stamped upon for restricting competition?

    At least with a mobile provider, they tie you in so that they can recoup the cost of the handset that they had just given you. Since when did BT or any 3G dongle require 12 months tie-in in order to recoup the costs?

    Surely this is as big a scam as the 'up to' thing?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Tie in

      By god, you're right. It's well known that the kit manufacturers provide DSLAMs and routers for free and that the installation work is done by pixies and elves who only require a buttercup full of milk in payment.

  20. Kevin 42

    It gets worse

    BT consistently limits speeds through stupidly high contention ratios and over-zealous throttling. It's quite right the advert should be banned (though not necessarily for the stated reasons), as the speed of the last mile really isn't the bottleneck in many cases.

    Worse still if you live in an area where there's no unbundling in your local exchange, all providers are having to delegate to BT, and this poor excuse-for-a-service is forced upon you regardless of any efforts to switch to competitors.

  21. Oliver Mayes

    What excellent service

    It only took them about 9 months to decide to ban the ad, that's quite impressive. I haven't even seen that particular one for months now, they've put out at least 2 or 3 more since the one that's been banned and they all say pretty much the same thing, so will those ones also be banned or will there have to be complaints made about each one and a similar turnaround time to ban each one in turn?

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "The ad itself is one of a series of annoying vignettes featuring a matey bloke (Adam) and a boring woman (Jane) becoming metaphorically wrapped in telephone cables as their love blossoms."

    How about some realism in advertising?

    * couple start having sex *

    * caption: "45 seconds later" appears on screen *

    Man: I have AIDS

    Woman: Well I have BT broadband


    * voice over: "well at least BT broadband isn't contagious" *

    And £50 million quid to the ad agency for that gem.

    "The company’s rivals – Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin – were among the 17 complainants who contacted ASA about the ad’s 20Mb claims."

    LOL get in.

    "The company said it had not intended to 'mislead' customers"

    No, they prefer the word "scam"

  23. Andy Moreton

    Daft ad.

    I always thought the BT ad. was stupid. It shows some guys waiting for a webpage to load because it was peak time, which suggests the problem was either congestion or an overloaded web server. Neither of these would be fixed by moving to a faster broadband connection.

    1. davenewman

      Waiting for a page to load

      I have actually seen this, in a library in a township near Cape Town. There one dial-up connection was shared between 5 computers, so their experience of the web was mostly looking at an hour glass.

    2. NogginTheNog

      The ad was put together by MARKETING people

      I rest my case.

    3. Eponymous Cowherd

      Peak Time claim

      BT Claim

      ***"“consistently faster broadband throughout the day even at peak times.”"***

      Hmmm. That ad used to really irritate me.

      The main reason I left BT was due to the pathetic performance of their "Total" Broadband service at peak times. Speeds down to 150KBps weren't uncommon.

      Either they have improved massively in the 18 months since I left, or the ad is just one big misleading porkie.

      I know which theory I believe.....

  24. Andy Livingstone

    Inaccurate quote - surely?

    "Because we had not seen sufficient evidence to support the claim that BT's new broadband service was consistently faster than its existing 8Mb service even at peak times, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead," said ASA.

    Who at ASA thinks the existing service is 8Mb? The weasel words "up to" have not been noticed by ASA? Did you really quote them accurately?

  25. Dann

    Talk Talk

    They ensure that all their customers have up to 20Mb

    great so they ensure that all their customers have a connection then!

    Made me laugh and then cry

    Thumb Down

    bt ads

    bt really are having some issues getten the ads done correctly maybe if they didnt use copper lines they wouldnt get as many ads banned haha. bring on fibre its time the uk caught up with others for once

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What about the flat?

    Surely BT should also be punished for making boring Adam & Jane live in a flat in Newhaven - unjewel of the South Coast?

    (I've not listened carefully enough to see if they're passing it off as Cornwall?)

  28. richard 69

    let's get to the real meat.....

    would she even fancy him?

    nope. she's way too good for the psycho faced gimp. and she's pretty tasty for one of those older birds.

    oh, yeah broadband is rubbish..blah...speeds are not speedy....billy wizz could do better after half a gram of speed...blah blah....

  29. Mike Richards Silver badge

    I've been looking forward to the ad

    Where following his conviction for downloading high speed porn using BT's network, the undead corpse of Maureen Lipmann's Beattie strangles the daft bint with a modem cable.

    It's a feel-good comedy. Hello Hollywood?

  30. Oliver 7

    The real scandal... that these firms don't have to distinguish between their download and upload speeds. They simply state 'up to 20Mb' while neglecting to mention that your upload speed is going to be a single digit percentage of the amount you receive.

  31. Tigra 07
    Thumb Up

    Kill em off - it's a decent punishment

    Just kill Adam and Jane off already!

    That way Adam return to "my family" and it magically becomes funny and watchable again.

  32. Clive Galway

    Bandwidth was not what was indicated at anyway

    I remember the advert - the non BT customer was not able to view the listings website because "every man and his dog is online".

    The plain fact of the matter is that the amount of bandwidth required to load a site like that *in a reasonable time* is significantly less than 2 meg probably, so the difference between and 8meg and a 20meg service would be pointless for that application.

    In fact, if every BT customer had 20meg, then the peering probably wouldn't cope and it would be *more* likely to result in scenes such as those depicted, not less.

    It would kind of be like a car company advertising a sports car as faster for getting through traffic jams.

  33. mark l 2 Silver badge


    Dont they already advertise cars as 'heres your new car sir, it does up to 120 mph and up to 50mpg' ?

    As your not going to be able to do the same speed and MPG on a steep hill will 4 full size adults in the car, a full tank of fuel and luggage in the boot. as you would in ideal situations where they test on the top speeds and MPG on a test track

  34. TkH11


    I don't care what the 'typical' speed a customer gets with an ISP I'm thinking of signing up with. What matters to me is what speed *I* will get. What value is it to me if the typical speed is 3Mbps and all I get is 1Mbps?

    Next, let's take into consideration other ISPs. ISP1 says their typical speed is 3Mbps and ISP2 says their typical speed is 4.5Mbps. Which am I going to go for? I'll sign up with ISP2 because their typical speed is faster? Unfortunately, Joe Public is going to think in exactly this way.

    Chances are, both ISPs are using the same technology down the same twisted pair to the home, with the source of the signal being in the same building, so the cable run lengths are the same for the two ISPs, so the chances are I'm going to get the same speed with both ISPs despite the fact ISP2 has a typical speed higher than ISP1 !!

    This is why you can't use the idea of a typical speed!!!

    Advertising broadband speeds 'up to' an upper limit is factually correct. The issue is that the public doesn't understand what this really means and the issues involved.

    So there are two options:

    1) Change the way broadband speeds are advertised

    2) Educate the public.

    Given the technological thickness of the majority of the UK population, I doubt we'd be sucessful in educating the public. (Hasn't worked so far has it?).

    So what options are there open to us to change the way broadband speeds are advertised?

    It's right to indicate what the maximum speed you *could* receive, because some people will actually receive that!

    What's needed is more clarity, more explanation given.

    I also think what's needed is a scaling price structure. The fundamental problem is that people think they're going to get 8Mbps broadband and they think that's what they're paying for, so when they only receive 1Mbps they feel they're being ripped off (and rightly so), because they're paying the same amount of money for a 1Mbps connection as someone who has an 8Mbps connection.

    The price quoted should be for the maximum speed if it is achieved, with a sliding scale downward quoted if users don't receive that. Then they won't feel they're being ripped off.

    In this way, they'll instantly see that there are different speeds available and the ad should state they may not receive the maximum speed. And they'll see how much they will pay.

    That has to be the fairest way of dealing with this.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  35. TkH11

    @Oliver 7 - The real scandal

    I disagree with you on the the point that the real scandal is the much lower upload speed.

    Most people download webpages and so the assymetry is appropriate. Whilst the upload speed is considerable slower than the download speed how many people do you know have complained that the web is too slow?

    The outgoing http request to the webserver is tiny compared to the amount of data being downloaded of the webpage itself.

    How many of those webpages being too slow to load are down to the how long it takes for the outgoing http request to be transmitted to web server over your broadband connection?

    Answer: an incredibly small number.

    For most people, the slower upload speed isn't an issue. If it were, IT professionals would be all over it, we'd be the first to complain about it.

    I accept however, some people may need, some businesses may need a symetrical connection speed (where download and upload speeds are equal).

    There are companies which provide higher upload speeds, and no doubt people with this requirement are sufficiently technically aware to seek these companies out on the web (as I have done very recently).

    My criticism in respect of the asymetry between upload/download speeds is that there aren't enough companies providing higher upload speeds (trading off the download speed), and ISPs don't give you a choice on what upload/download ratio you would like.

    If they could do that, then that would be great. Let us the user decide on what we actually want and need for our specific applications we're running.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Does this mean ...

    Does this mean I can now get out of my awful BT contract?

    They reneged, mislead and overstated so I want out of it!

  37. David 45

    Bloated claim

    Typical "come-on" ad. I expect there is some very small print or a garbled message that it all depends on the quality of your line. Try mine, which is only good for about a meg, with a following wind and everybody willing it on! TalkTalk sent me stuff about transferring my account to their "new" all-singing, all-dancing network after the Tiscali takeover and "aligning" my package (read for that - price increase). Up to 8 meg, you know. Hmm. My speed of late has actually gone down, would you believe? Isn't it great, being charged more for less?

  38. P. Lee

    No need to ban the adverts

    Just force the providers to have a link from their broadband homepage to a map which shows the known sync speeds (data from the local exchange) for addresses in the street/area you want (overlaid on google maps if you want).

    You'll probably want to average the speeds to avoid pinpointing customers, but that isn't hard.

    TPG in Oz does this.

  39. Ascylto
    Big Brother

    Well, I never ...

    I asked O2 for an up to 20 mb service. They got back to me and said they could not accept my money but could offer an up to 8mb service. I get about 5mb and that's OK with me.

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