Once again the ASA are not quite getting to grips with how things work in their latest set of rules on broadband pricing.
The good news appears to be that they "recommend" adverts "Show all-inclusive up-front and monthly costs; no more separating out line rental". Well, I am fine with recommendations, it is only when they start treating them as rules that make no sense that I have an issue.
this, which is BT saying their Phone only package for unlimited weekend calls is £0/mth and then £17.99 line rental in small grey print. Note that this is just an advert for phone service, not broadband, so not covered by new ASA ruling. Similar adverts for broadband where a line rental is required are also annoying.
So I see where the ASA are coming from.
But saying we have to include the line rental in the main price is going to cause confusion.
For a start, companies not offering line rental don't have to, so before we did line rental A&A could advertise our entry level Home::1 package with 100GB as £25/mth and people would compare to ISP offering broadband for £27.99/mth. Except that the £27.99/mth includes £17.99/mth line rental so not a fair comparison.
But because we happen to also offer line rental (well, copper pair, no phone service) as an option we will have to quote our Home::1 package as £35/mth. This makes comparison to £27.99/mth easier to make, except you are not comparing like for like. For a start, our broadband will have different characteristics in terms of usage levels, type of line maybe, technical aspects, top up costs, and so on, but if you are really comparing solely on price (who does that?) then it is easier to compare.
There are, of course, companies offering Internet Access by some means which does not require any sort of "line rental". Their prices will look good, except for when people think that they will include a telephone service with them. Why would they? But if all adverts are prices as including a telephone service then consumers will assume that comes as part of a broadband package even when it does not.
We will have a similar problem in that a lot of people will expect "line rental" to provide a telephone service and even some calls included maybe. Our "copper pair" is cheap, only £10/mth, but does not do that. So if someone comes to us paying £25/mth and retains a BT line at £17.99/mth then they are paying £42.99/mth and not the £35/mth we advertised. To get that price they would have to take "line rental" from us. Whilst we have a lot of people taking a "copper pair" from us for broadband, the majority still use someone else for "line rental", so the advertised price of £35/mth is not meaningful to most customers.
We are working on a way to more seamlessly move numbers to VoIP, but again, that is confusing as we charge £1.20/mth for the VoIP plus call charges, so to compare against a phone line (even forgetting call costs) you need to have us advertise a total of £36.20/mth to include "line rental" and a "telephone service" (albeit VoIP) and "broadband" in one package. The ASA do not seem to have gone that far in what they are asking. What is scary is there is some comment on some news that the total package price including TV should be shown one day. Why assume that people are always buying a bundle?
At the end of the day we will have some ISPs advertising a headline price that has no line rental (but still you need it with someone like BT); others advertising a price that includes line rental which is optional at a price which will not apply to most customers that won't take that option but still use BT line rental; Others advertising a package price including their mandatory line rental; and others advertising a price for some pure fibre service or wifi or other type of service with no telephony included.
How will customers be expected to understand the differences?
Personally I would have said that any pricing should quote clearly any mandatory components with the same prominence. E.g. "Internet access £35/mth, copper pair £10/mth" or something.
Given this is a recommendation, we'll review the best way for us to present pricing on our web site to be as clear as possible.