A website for BT, www.bt.com, seen during December 2020, included a page with the heading “BT Broadband”, underneath which text stated “Find your broadband deal” and “Wherever you are, we’ve got a broadband package for you. Whichever one you choose, it’s broadband you can rely on”. A link underneath labelled “See broadband deals” led to a web page with the heading “Broadband deals”. Text stated “New to BT?” underneath which was a box to enter a postcode and a link which was labelled “See your deals”.
The subsequent page included text above the user’s address which stated “… See below for your personal speed range”. Under the sub-heading “Your BT Broadband deal includes …” was text which stated “Speed guarantee” and “Speeds you can rely on day and night, and a personal speed guarantee”. The page showed three BT Broadband deals, including “Fibre 2” which showed a range of broadband speeds, underneath which text stated 65Mb – 73Mb” and “Your download speed range”. Text underneath stated “Your Stay Fast Guarantee 60Mb”.
A link labelled “What these speed estimates mean for you” led to a pop-up window with the heading “Broadband speeds made simple” and text which stated “Your speed estimates include three different things: your download speed range, your Stay Fast Guarantee and your upload speed range” and “It’s important to know that the speed ranges we show are an estimate. They’re based on homes with similar lines to yours, but there are other things than can affect the speed you’ll get”. Under the sub-heading “How the Stay Fast Guarantee works”, text stated “You’ll get your very own Stay Fast Guarantee speed when you join with us”, “We constantly check and optimise your speeds, but you can also test the download speed to your hub in My BT. If it’s slower than it should be, we’ll run checks to fix the problem and send out an engineer if needed” and “If we can’t get your Stay Fast speed back to where it should be within 90 days of a problem being reported, you can claim £20”.
IssueThe complainant, who understood that their internet speed was significantly slower than 60Mb, challenged whether the claim “Your Stay Fast Guarantee 60Mb” was misleading.
BT plc explained that the page of their website identified in the complaint was exclusively intended for new customers. Existing customers could access personalised information, including the speed available at their home and options to upgrade or renew their deals, by logging into their account from the links available on every page of the website.
BT pointed out that the complainant was an existing customer who had most recently renewed their broadband deal over the phone. They were not therefore representative of the average consumer to whom the speed claims were addressed (i.e. new customers progressing through an online sales journey).
BT said they were signatories to Ofcom’s Voluntary Codes of Practice on Broadband Speed, which required them to offer a minimum speed guarantee to customers before purchase. If that guaranteed minimum speed was not achieved, customers could claim money back, or leave their contract without penalty.
For new customers, it was not always possible to provide property-specific speed estimates, which was why in the first instance the website generated an estimate based on Openreach data on the speeds achieved by properties in the same area. All broadband providers on the Openreach network relied on this data, because property-specific data was not always available. Customers who saw the initial estimated speed were given a full explanation of the guarantee via the clearly labelled pop up “what these speed estimates mean for you”, which appeared immediately below the speeds.
BT said if a customer chose to continue through the purchase journey, further checks were carried out to identify whether BT had access to property-specific data. They said it was unusual for the Openreach estimated speed and the property-specific speed to differ significantly, but wherever the property-specific data was available it was used so that consumers had the best possible understanding of the speeds they were likely to receive. When that data wasn’t available, the customer’s speed guarantee would be based on the initial Openreach estimated figure.BT said that they were obligated to provide a minimum speed guarantee, that it was not possible to avoid basing that guarantee on estimated speed data, and that the nature of the estimated speeds was clearly explained. The initial speed estimate was not intended for the complainant, who was an existing customer with access to property-specific speed data, and there was no indication that new customers were being misled by the information provided on their website.
The ASA accepted that the complainant was an existing BT customer and that such a customer would not necessarily engage with the ad as they would have access to more detailed information about their particular circumstances by logging into their BT account. However, we understood that the ad directed new customers to input their postcode to find those broadband deals that were available to them, and we therefore assessed the ad with respect to that particular audience.
Once a consumer entered their address, they were presented with a web page with text at the top which stated “… See below for your personal speed range”. Text underneath stated “Your BT Broadband deal includes”, below which was a tick-shaped bullet point which stated “Speed guarantee” and “Speeds you can rely on day and night, and a personal speed guarantee”. Below that was a broadband speed range for different deals with text that stated “Your download speed range”, underneath which was the claim “Your Stay Fast Guarantee”.
We therefore considered the ad included a sustained emphasis to the personalised nature of the broadband speeds the consumer was presented with. We noted that the speed was referred to as a ‘guarantee’, and we considered that guarantees were typically associated with offering certainty. Consumers were therefore likely to understand that the speed alongside the “Your Stay Fast Guarantee” claim was specific to them and offering an assurance of that speed, rather than an estimate. In that context, we considered the claim “Your Stay Fast Guarantee” would be interpreted as the minimum broadband speed that BT would commit to provide to the consumer’s address during their contract.
We acknowledged that as signatories to Ofcom’s Voluntary Codes of Practice on Broadband Speed, BT were required to provide a ‘minimum guaranteed speed’, ensuring that customers were aware of their right to exit their contract if speeds fell below that minimum level. We understood the claim “Your Stay Fast Guarantee” was a reference to that. We acknowledged that information explaining that guarantee was available when consumers clicked on a link, labelled “What these speed estimates mean for you”. However, that information was not shown in the main body of the ad and we considered it was possible for consumers to choose a broadband deal without necessarily seeing that information. Furthermore, although the labelling of the link referred to a speed “estimate” in the main body of the ad, we noted that the text stated “It’s important to know that the speed ranges we show are an estimate”, and we considered consumers would understand that as a reference specifically to where speed ranges, rather than specific speeds, were given.
We understood that the broadband speed alongside the “Your Stay Fast Guarantee” referred to a broadband speed a customer could expect, based on an estimate using information from homes similar to theirs. We understood that after a customer had made an enquiry about a broadband deal, but before they signed up to the service, BT would undertake further property-specific checks, following which it was possible for the initial “Your Stay Fast Guarantee” to be revised. We understood it was the latter speed which would be used as the minimum speed BT were required to offer as part of Ofcom’s Voluntary Codes of Practice. The speed given in the ad was therefore not an actual minimum guaranteed speed, but an estimate of that speed, which was subject to revision, and not one on which consumers could necessarily rely to leave their contract without penalty.
Because the stated speed was likely to be seen as a guaranteed minimum speed specific to the entered address, and because that was not the case, we concluded that the ad was misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 and 3.10 (Qualification), 3.11 (Exaggeration) and 3.54 (Guarantees and after-sales service).
The ad must not appear again in the form complained of. We told British Telecommunications plc to ensure that their ads did not present the “Your Stay Fast Guarantee” speed as a guarantee, if it was in fact an estimate of one.