By Marcus Leach

New guidance brings clarity to advertisers and consumers on the use of 'unlimited' and 'up to' speed claims in telecommunications and broadband ads.

The new guidance, issued by the bodies responsible for writing the Advertising Codes, the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), states that services should not be described as 'unlimited' if users are charged or have their service suspended for exceeding a certain threshold e.g. 2000 texts.

Broadband providers may still manage traffic on their services, but if it affects users unduly, that too will likely render an 'unlimited' claim misleading.

The guidance also states that maximum speed claims for broadband should be based on the actual experience of users. In future, marketers should be able to demonstrate that the speeds claimed in their advertising can be achieved by a reasonable proportion of consumers.

In summary, the Help Note on 'unlimited' states the term can only be used if:

- The user incurs no additional charge or suspension of service as a consequence of exceeding a usage threshold associated with a ‘fair usage policy’ (FUP), a traffic management policy or similar; and
- Limitations that do affect the speed or usage of the service are moderate only and are clearly explained in the advertisement.

In summary, the Help Note on speed claims states that:

- If a maximum speed claim is made, advertisers should be able to demonstrate that the speed is achievable for at least 10% of customers.
- Advertisers should also include in the ad appropriate, additional information to accompany a maximum speed claim to ensure the average consumer is not misled. Where relevant, this includes information that bears out that a significant proportion of subscribers receive a speed that falls considerably short of what consumers might reasonably expect the service to offer.

The creation of the Help Notes follows a request by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), who asked CAP to review advertising claims in the telecommunications sector following complaints about whether consumers could achieve advertised speeds and 'unlimited' usage of services as claimed.

The guidance, which was produced following a full public consultation, will help the ASA Council when considering complaints about speed and usage claims in ads in future.

The guidance comes fully into effect on 1 April 2012. Advertisers should produce any new campaigns in line with the guidance.

“This new guidance directly responds to consumer concerns by setting an appropriately high bar for advertisers who want to make speed and ‘unlimited’ claims in ads," Chairman of CAP James Best said.

"Advertising is only effective if consumers trust the messages they see and hear. This guidance will help deliver that.”

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