ASA shoots down Sky broadband claims

ASA shoots down Sky broadband claims

Watchdog upholds complaints over 'misleading' ad

Sky has been rapped by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) over a "misleading" advertisement which claimed that its broadband services were faster than those available from cable rival Virgin Media.

The controversy centred on a national press ad for Sky headlined 'Still digging for the truth on cable broadband?'.

Text underneath was in three sections: 'Speed', 'Value' and 'Support'. Beneath the headline 'Speed' the advertisement stated: 'When over 350,000 people tested their lines on, the results showed that Sky's broadband customers got on average faster download speeds than Virgin Media's.'

Under the 'Value' heading the text read: 'The £10 per month that Virgin Media charge for download speeds of up to 2Mb, almost doubles to £18 after 12 months. Sky TV customers can get download speeds of up to 2Mb for free*. And they can get even faster broadband with download speeds of up to 8Mb for only £5 a month.'
Virgin Media and two members of the public challenged whether the advisement was accurate.

The claim 'When over 350,000 people tested their lines on, the results showed that Sky's broadband customers got on average faster download speeds than Virgin Media's' was said to be misleading, because the tests were carried out between October 2006 and January 2007 and were therefore out of date when the ad was published in July 2007.

In addition it was pointed out that the ad did not make clear that Sky had faster average download speeds because the Sky broadband customers who took part in the test had purchased broadband with higher speeds than the tested Virgin customers.

Sky also came under fire over claims that its price comparison was misleading, because it compared Sky's price for broadband as part of a bundle with Virgin Media's price for standalone broadband.

Virgin Media challenged whether the pricing information for Sky broadband was misleading, because it did not make clear that consumers would also have to pay for BT line rental at £10.50 per month.

Sky said it did not consider the tests were out of date. The company argued that dates of the tests and the circumstances in which they were taken were clearly stated as a footnote and could not mislead consumers.

In addition Sky argued that the price comparison was not misleading because the ad was specifically targeted at existing Sky TV customers with "a broadband acquisition message".

However, dismissing all of Sky's arguments, the ASA found against the satellite firm. Although conceding that the test results were not out of date, the watchdog noted that the website stated that the test did not reflect the performance of specific services available to customers and, as such, a broadband provider with more customers on low speed services would have a lower average than those offering more high speed services. This was irrespective of the quality of service, or speed-to-price ratio.

The ASA added that the website made clear that the speed test was not a league table of broadband providers and should not be referenced as such.

The organisation said it was "concerned" that Sky had used the test data to compare speed performance with Virgin Media, even though the data made clear that it should not be used for that purpose.

"We concluded that the ad was misleading because it implied that Sky's service was, on average, faster than Virgin Media's service for all levels of broadband," the ASA stated.

In terms of the "hidden" BT line rental charge, ASA again backed Virgin. "We noted that Sky had acknowledged that the footnote 'compatible line required' could have been made clearer in the advert," the watchdog stated.

"We concluded that, because the necessary additional cost of a landline was not stated, the ad was misleading."