ASA slows down Virgin speed claims

Virgin Media can no longer claim to offer the fastest broadband on its 20Mbps service following a ruling from the Advertising Standards Authority. The ASA has told the cablenet that in future disclaimers warning that the number of users on the network could affect performance should be included in the main body of the text rather than the small print.

The judgement came as the ASA upheld complaints over Virgin’s ‘Hate to Wait’ poster campaign. Two members of the public had challenged Virgin’s claim to offer the ‘UK’s fastest broadband’ because they believed other providers were supplying speeds of up to 24 Mbps. Separately, a member of the public and BSkyB challenged the use of Epitro data to substantiate the claims, believing it related only to the 20 Mbps top speed, which was only available to a small percentage of UK customers.

Virgin maintained its claims had been based on the throughput speeds, which they believed to be a truer indicator of speed, but the ASA thought the public was most likely to interpret the claim as being absolute and implying that it was not possible to obtain a faster speed anywhere else. The ASA found that although different technologies were involved it was still possible to receive a faster maximum download speed on ADSL2+ that allowed speeds of up to 24Mbps. Consequently Virgin’s 20Mbps claim was misleading.

On the use of Epitiro data, the ASA noted that only subscribing ISPs were covered, and although Virgin said this represented 90% of the industry it did not include Sky. Speed tests carried out by Epitiro were calculated at destinations chosen by the subscribing companies. Consequently the Epitiro data was not considered robust enough to make comparative claims.

Although a Broadbandchoices award was also quoted, the results were based only on the median of the average individual users speed test results for each ISP, and given that they were taken from visitors to a website they were not seen as a sufficiently random sample to give a robust nationwide average speed.

In addition to banning the ads from appearing again in their current form, Virgin was warned that it should ensure any future claims on speed were measured against robust evidence against other ISPs.