Telcos will be honest if you force them to – Which research

New research from Which has suggested telcos will be honest and realistic about downloads speeds as long as there are rules preventing them from blatantly misleading the consumer.

Following the introduction of new rules by the Committees of Advertising Practice in May, eleven broadband providers throughout the UK have cut the speeds claimed through advertising, some by as much as 41%. The guilty parties are BT, EE, John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Sky, Zen Internet, Post Office, SSE, TalkTalk and Utility Warehouse.

“Customers will now have a much clearer idea of the speeds that can be achieved when they are shopping around for broadband,” said Alex Neill, Which MD of Home Services. “For those still struggling to get a reasonable speed or connection, the Government must press ahead with its crucial plans to deliver the service that broadband customers need, without it costing them the earth.”

The dreaded ‘up to’ metric in advertising has been plaguing the British consumer for decades as advertisers unashamedly take advantage of the consumer through one of the multiple grey areas in regulations. The telcos are some of the worst around, though it we should hardly be surprised as customer care and transparency seem to hit rock bottom of the list of priorities and virtues.

Prior to the rule changes from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), as long as telcos could prove 10% of customers could achieve a certain speed, the creatives in the marketing department could say whatever they want. As long as new customers were being duped into contracts, who would give a second though the 90% who have been directly misled; they are tied up with small print for 12 months, don’t have to worry about them for a while.

The new rules, which are still by no means perfect but at least a step in the right direction, state providers now have to advertise speeds which are achievable for 50% of customers during peak times (8-10pm). Those who are able to prove the speeds are not considered satisfactory are handed a machete to cut themselves through the contracts red tape and ditch the offending provider.

Which claims prior to the rule changes introduced on May 23, customers were paying for paying for speeds which we actually 51% lower than what they signed up for. Among the offenders, TalkTalk has completely dropped advertising speed claims from most of its deals, while Vodafone changed the names of its offers from Fibre 38 and Fibre 76 to Superfast 1 and Superfast 2. Across the board from the worst offenders, today’s advertised speeds for the cheapest deals are now 41% lower than during the wild-west advertising fest.

While the news internet service providers are now being held accountable for speeds in advertising, there might still be a few ways those crafty marketers can trick consumers into signing up for services.

“While it is great that this change to the rules has pushed industry to bring its speed claims closer to the truth, it only goes to show why it is so important that the Advertising Standards Authority finishes the job it started here,” said Greg Mesch, CEO at CityFibre.

“Now is the time to address the use of “fibre” in adverts, as across the country people are still paying for services they can’t yet receive while being stuck on prehistoric copper-based infrastructure. The ASA must take its head out of the sand and change these antiquated rules immediately so that as full fibre becomes widespread, customers are able to make a genuine choice.”

Steps forward in terms of fibre might have been taken, though CityFibre is one organization which does not think the advertising watchdog has gone far enough. The ASA believes providers should be allowed to describe hybrid offerings as ‘fibre’ as the general public can now comprehend the difference between ‘fibre’ and ‘full-fibre’ in advertising claims (or doesn’t actually care that much). As you would imagine, CityFibre is taking issue with the slight, and is taking the ASA to court over the matter.

Although serial-moaner and sh*t stirrer CityFibre doesn’t usually need any support to preach and proclaim, we tend to agree with Mesch and his cronies here. Broadband is now a staple in the diet of today’s consumer and this should be reflected in advertising. Such contracts are complicated enough, and consumers should not have to worry about where providers are taking creative licence.

UK broadband subscribers typically get half of the advertised speed – Which

Consumer advocacy group Which mined data from its broadband speed checker app to compare what is advertised with what people actually get.

The overall finding was that, on average, the 235,000 users of the app pay for broadband services that claim to offer speeds ‘up to’ 38 Mbps, but only get 19 Mbps. Which seems to have timed the announcement to coincide with new advertising standards that will come into effect next week, apparently prohibiting the use of the slipper phrase ‘up to’ when plugging broadband services in the UK.

“This change in the rules is good news for customers who have been continuously been let down by unrealistic adverts and broadband speeds that won’t ever live up to expectations,” said Alex Neill of Which. “We know that speed and reliability of service really matter to customers and we will be keeping a close eye on providers to make sure they follow these new rules and finally deliver the service that people pay for.”

Not everyone is convinced by these findings, however. “Looking at Which’s results here I have to say I find them rather odd,” said Dan Howdle of broadband advice site Cable.co.uk. “Ofcom’s most recent testing shows, for example, that a 200Mbps connection (offered exclusively by Virgin Media in the UK) averaged 92% of the advertised speed at peak times.

“With such a large disparity between Ofcom’s results and those of Which I believe something could be amiss. One possible explanation might be if measurements were to be taken over wifi (rather than over a LAN cable) – this would have the potential to show the much slower averages measured by Which.

“Wifi, while capable of these speeds on paper, tends to be slowed down considerably (compared to a LAN cable) in your typical urban environment thanks to signal interference and architectural considerations. Whatever the cause, Which’s results are at odds with those of the regulator, as well as a multitude of other sources.”

Oh dear Which. There’s always the danger of confirmation bias when research is conducted by organisations with a commercial agenda. Which wants to sell subscriptions, switching services (of which Cable.co.uk seems to be one) want people to shop around through them. It does seem likely, however, that ‘up to’ marketing is misleading and hopefully its prohibition will empower consumers by itself.

Here’s Which’s table, followed by the Ofcom data referred to by Howdle.

Which bb speed table

Ofcom BB speed table

Which reckons Vodafone sucks, Tutela doesn’t

Consumer advice firm Which has published the results of its UK MNO customer satisfaction survey, which ranks Vodafone last for the second year running.

Which comes up with a customer score that is a combination of stated satisfaction and their likelihood to recommend their operator to a mate. Vodafone got the lowest overall score, followed by EE. O2 and Three did a bit better but among the operators represented by over 100 respondents Giffgaff was the clear winner.

Which operators April 2018

Vodafone sucked even more when it came to recommendations, with less than two thirds of its subscribers saying they would inflict it on their friends. Giffgaff, by contrast, had a 95% recommendation rate. Furthermore 15% of Vodafone customers said they had received an unexpectedly expensive or incorrect bill, and the network was also rated worst for customer service (11%).

Which operator recommendations April 2018

“The biggest providers are lagging behind smaller rivals who are doing a better job of giving customers what they want in terms of service and value for money,” said Alex Neill of Which. “Customers who are fed up should look to switch provider as soon as they can. New reforms will soon mean that mobile customers will be able to switch provider by text message, which we hope will make it quicker and easier for customers to seek a better deal.”

Meanwhile network experience firm Tutela came to some different conclusions in its recent report on the state of the UK MNO scene. It found that the Vodafone network is performing just fine, which leads to the conclusion that Vodafone is being let down by its customer service, even though it was supposed to have put its BSS woes behind it ages ago. Here are some tables from the report.

Tutela UK networks Q1 2018

Tutela UK latency Q1 2018

Tutela UK jitter Q1 2018

Which grasses up UK ISPs to Ofcom

Consumer information company Which did some mystery calling to see if UK ISPs say the right stuff when flogging broadband. They didn’t.

It did 12 mystery shopper calls to 11 ISPs to see if the sales patter conformed to either current Ofcom guidelines or a new lot set to be brought in next year. “Under the code, providers should give customers estimated home speeds ‘as early as practicable’ within the sales process – such as when you give your address,” advised Which. “They should also explain that speeds can be influenced by a range of factors, such as network capacity and the number of subscribers to the service.”

But, overall, only 47% of mystery shopees proffered the requisite intelligence, which made Which sad. You can see who the worst offenders were in the table below. Vodafone’s poor performance is especially noteworthy in the context of its ubiquitous marketing campaign in which Bilbo Baggins Martin Freeman gets all English and awkward due to his poor communications services, but then cheers up when Vodafone comes to the rescue. Maybe some of that money would have been better spent on training its salespeople.

Are providers giving information about speeds? Current requirements:

Voluntary Code of Practice signatory Times estimated speed given Times advice about speeds offered
Sky 12 9
Zen Internet 12 2
SSE 12 1
BT 12 0
Utility Warehouse 10 0
Plusnet 10 0
Post Office 10 0
John Lewis Broadband 9 0
EE Broadband 8 0
Vodafone 7 0
TalkTalk 5 0

“Having a clear idea of what speeds you can expect from a broadband deal before you sign up is your right, but our research shows that providers have a long way to go to meet their customers’ expectations,” said Alex Neill, Which MD of Home Products and Services. “We support Ofcom’s action to strengthen the Code and providers need to play their part and implement the new rules quickly and update their advice as soon as they can so that customers have a clearer picture about what they’re getting.”

That’s about it really. Which also noted how well everyone did based on the code of practice Ofcom will impose next year and, predictably enough, they generally did worse, although not in the same order. A few ISPs also provided a generic mixture of contrition and mitigation in response to the findings and all vowed to be good from now on.

Are providers giving information about speeds? Future requirements:

Voluntary Code of Practice signatory Times a minimum guaranteed speed given Times a peak-time speed given
Zen Internet 11 0
EE Broadband 7 0
Vodafone 6 0
Utility Warehouse 5 0
Sky 3 0
John Lewis Broadband 2 0
Plusnet 2 0
TalkTalk 2 0
BT 0 0
Post Office 0 0
SSE 0 0

The good, the bad and the TalkTalk – Which broadband rankings

As inevitable as the coming of the tides, the rising sun, or Gary Lineker’s goatee being terrible, TalkTalk has hit rock bottom of the broadband rankings once more.

For the fifth Which broadband survey in a row, TalkTalk is bringing up the rear. Based on customer opinions who cited issues with slow speeds, frequent connection drop outs and poor customer service, you have to start to wonder where TalkTalk is actually getting its customers from; how many people can the provider wrong before the UK just gives up on them.

Interestingly enough, TalkTalk is keeping good company at the arse end of the table, with BT and Sky completing the bottom three with customer satisfaction scores of 46% and 45% respectively. The ‘big’ boys in the UK broadband scene did not deliver, which perhaps we should not be surprised with.

“Far too many people are still getting a poor deal from their broadband provider,” said Which, MD of Home Products and Services, Alex Neill. “Big players need to improve their service across the board or expect their customers to take their business elsewhere.”

The full rankings are as follows:

Which BB customer scores

What this list shows is that customer satisfaction scores are not much to do with the network performance, aside Virgin Media they’ll pretty much be using the same infrastructure, but more about online experience, perhaps the billing system they use, and also customer service. To illustrate this point, you have to look at John Lewis Broadband.

John Lewis Broadband scored a satisfactory 66%. Now the John Lewis Broadband is actually supplied by Plusnet, which scored 63%, which is a sub-brand of BT, which scored 46%. All three services are likely to be using the same infrastructure, with the only difference being the brand and engagement with the customer. John Lewis Broadband is probably harbouring die hard John Lewis fans as customers, but it does show the power of good customer services none-the-less.

Interesting enough, Zen Internet tops the list, but who is Zen Internet I hear you say. Zen Internet is an independent provider, headquartered in Rochdale, with about 400 employees. It was founded in 1995 by Managing Director Richard Tang after a drink in the pub (name of the pub unknown), who was also named Customer Service Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst & Young in 2010. Sounds like a sound bloke.

Second and third spots were also occupied by interesting names, Utility Warehouse and SSE. In both cases, customers cited value for money as the reason for the success.

Perhaps we should stop being surprised the big boys, with sticky fingered and demanding investors, hit the bottom of customer service rankings; the fat has to be trimmed from somewhere. Your correspondent will be looking for a new broadband deal over the next couple of weeks, and there are certainly a few new names to look into now.