Thursday, 21 January 2016

Latest nonsense from ASA in collusion with OFCOM!

The latest from the Advertising Standards Authority is another fun bit of stupidity.

It is well intentioned but lacks understanding of the market.

We have seen a lot before including a requirement to only piss off 90% of people confused by the term "up to" instead of 100% (by quoting 90th percentile figures), and hence lying to 10% of people who get more than the quoted "up to" figure.

We have also seen the idea of describing something that is absolutely and categorically a COPPER coax cable as "Fibre optic".

But the latest tackles the issue with "line rental"

So, let's explain. Many broadband services are an '"extra" on top of a "phone line", which means you have to pay someone for the phone line rental as well as someone for the broadband service.

For a start, this is not always the case, but it is often the case. What makes adverts annoying is that some broadband offers only work when you buy the "line rental" from the same company.

So you see the likes of "free broadband for 6 months" with "when you spend £zillions a month on line rental with us". OK, to be fair £17 or £18 is pretty typical for the line rental there.

You can understand the problem, and I sympathise. I would say that any offer that ***REQUIRES*** line rental from the same provider as part of the offered package should include that in the headline price to be clear.

The problem is that a lot of ISPs (hundreds) sell broadband separately or independently to any "line rental". Many do not even do "phone lines" at all, only the broadband side. Such people have no tie in that you have to get their (expensive) line rental as part of the price, and so for them, even attempting to quote an "All-inclusive up-front and monthly costs; no more separating out line rental" makes no sense.

The good news is ASA seem to actually have no power, all they actually do is refer people to trading standards, but we assume trading standards do listen to some of their crap - who knows. The bad news is that OFCOM are involved and they do have some powers. We'll see what the actual rules are.

For A&A is it tricky - we do offer (but generally do not required) "line rental" but we don't sell a phone service on it, we sell as a "copper pair to support broadband". So we may have to sell our Home::1 package not as £25/month but as "£35/month* including line rental of £10/month which may be considerably higher from other providers" or something whacky like that!?!?

What is needed is simple - adverts to be *CLEAR* on what they mean. If they require line rental from same provider, say so and say total. If not, say so. Avoid the stupid small print!


  1. "Letter to relevant consumer person at Ofcom" time?

  2. I actually think the ASA are right with this one.

    Line rental is required for xDSL broadband in the UK still, and most providers these days insist on bundling it, and charging a fortune for it. Many ISPs further obfuscate pricing, such as talktalk, who charge for "broadband" separately to "fibre large", yet I can't have fibre without broadband, it's just to make their Fibre charge seem smaller.

    I think this could even be good for AA. AA, for better or worse, are perceived as "expensive", but apart from the high levels of support, this is partially because you don't move profit to required line rental products to make the broadband seem cheaper.

    Previously, people would compare your £40 product to say, BT's £26 product. If you now both advertise with line rental, they will be comparing a £50 product to a £44 product, which is a much smaller difference.

    Finally, while you are one of the few ISPs that don't require a customer to purchase a line rental product from yourselves, they do still need to buy one from somewhere.

    If a Car manufacturer decided to offer a car that came without an engine, allowing me to choose my choice of engine provider, that would be good from the perspective of consumer choice, but I'd still really expect there to be a listed price with basic engine, as it does need an engine to run, and it makes it much harder to compare to other cars otherwise!

    1. In principle, yes, but in practice there are a lot of complications and variations. Like people selling pure fibre services with no line rental in sight. Or perhaps people selling (like us) with a cheap line rental price and quoting a total then people finding the total higher at they did not get the line rental from us - that will get complaints. The whole thing needs to be clearer, but if they mandate not separating out the optional components then they make things worse and more confusing.

    2. Is it really that unusual? On the wholesale level, where all the ISPs except Virgin still buy from BT, the two are still totally separate!

      The "free broadband (when you also pay an inflated "line rental" charge)" irritates me, but mainly because they are dishonestly focusing on one part of the bundle - much like the "free handset (when you pay us £50 a month for the handset and a £20/month service)" lie.

      If you can actually buy the product for £x, that's the price. I pay A&A £40 per month for 80/20 VDSL, so that really is a £40/month broadband service. I can't get TalkTalk ADSL for 0, so "free broadband" is a lie: it's "£17.70 for ADSL and line rental".

      It's almost impossible to make any use of mains gas without also having an electricity supply - should gas suppliers all be banned from advertising gas prices, too? It's perfectly reasonable to buy them separately, just as I do for line rental and broadband, and have done for almost all the time I've been online except via Telewest/Virgin!

  3. I've slogged through the rules, and I think they're a lot more reasonable than the press release makes you think.

    The core rule is that you must be able to take the advertised services at the advertised price; where the service is part of a bundle, you must advertise the price of the bundle as a whole, not just the components.

    Thus. A&A offering Home::1 for £25 is fine; that's the real price of Home::1. A&A offering a landline for £10 is not; that's the price of a landline as part of the Home::1 bundle.

    Mix and match is already in the guidelines; as long as I can buy the offered component at the advertised price without taking anything else from you, the advertised price is acceptable within the rules. So, net effect is no more free broadband when you take TV, line rental and a calls package; now, that has to be £60/month for TV, calls and broadband.

  4. The "optimal" solution imho would be for Ofcom to prevent providers requiring you to take their line rental, and prevent surcharges for customers with line rental elsewhere (as Plusnet do).

    This would mean all the products would have to reflect their actual cost, and I could take a cheap line from provider X with my broadband provider Y. It would need some other work around SMPF and full llu, i.e. openreach/wholesale would have to separate out their charges, as otherwise the price providers X and Y pay BT would vary depending on if they were both LLU based or not, but would be the optimal solution. It would also promote competition, which Ofcom are seemingly obsessed with even if to the detriment of the market or the customer.

    The ASA can only impact how they advertise though, so this is the best solution they can enforce.

  5. The ASA are defenitly right revk, this is long overdue. The issue is that retail line rentail prices are skyrocketing to the point they getting out of control and are clearly been used to subsidise lower headline broadband costs and providers have been getting away with printing a little tiny price with the caveat line rental is extra on top and required.
    I think you have misunderstood the idea a bit because if line rental is not required then you dont need to display line rental in the cost of the package, so providers that offer standalone packages such as yourself should gain from this.

    1. This issue is that line rental is required, but not required to be purchased from us, so makes hard to state a single simple price. Sounds like will not be as bad as I thought though.

    2. yeah that's what I meant, you would just need to add a note saying, BT line required or similar. You only need to include the line rental price if the customer is required to get the voice line from you for that package, like on your new TB packages, which I gladly noticed you have done the all in price :)

  6. I get flyers offering free broadband for six months (or something similar). I know I cannot get this without actually paying out money so the paper goes in the bin. I also suspect than I wouldn't got loads of ipv4 addresses and ipv6 as well so what they are offering is really badly targeted.

    On the other hand. I'm thinking that fttc might be a good idea but I haven't been able to work out from the A&A website what the extra cost over what I have now will actually be, including one-off costs and ongoing costs. But then again, I am sure that a quick email to "support" would clarify everything.

    1. If you catch me on irc I can see if you can navigate the new availability and order page we are working on. It should show exact one off and on going costs for your specific case.

  7. Here in Japan, we don't have this "line rental" nonsense. In order to get broadband, one must first rent a broadband line (not phone line) from NTT at a price set by the regulator. Then one selects an ISP who will charge separately for the internet access service, and there are many different providers offering different kinds of services at different prices. No room for confusion.

    1. I have said before that such a system would work here perfectly well. With FTTC/VDSL being done by BT in almost all cases it would make sense to buy the line and the pick ISP