Earlier this week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) revealed that it may implement new rules to make broadband advertising much easier to understand.
There are three key guidelines it wants the likes of BT, Plusnet, Sky and Virgin Media to stick to. Let's take a look at each one, and why it matters. Because it really does matter.
Bye-bye line rental
The ASA thinks providers should stop separating out line rental and promote one inclusive monthly cost instead. So rather than a broadband deal costing '£4 a month + £17.99 line rental' it would just say '£21.99 a month'.
This is one of those things that's so obvious, it's incredible it's taken the ASA this long to even think about simplifying it. One of the most popular features on our site is the ability to include line rental in price comparisons. I refer to it as the 'no bulls**t button' (unless managers are around, in which case I shut up and try to look busy in case they start wondering why they pay me), because that's exactly what it is - it cuts out the unnecessary complexity around broadband pricing.
And that complexity has a real knock-on effect on our perception of broadband. People hate line rental. I mean, they really hate it - just look at some of the comments we get on Facebook and Twitter to see the frothing fury it inspires in people. It's easy to see why - in these futuristic days of mobile phones, WhatsApp and Skype, many of us simply don't use a home phone any more. And although broadband in most cases still needs an active phone line, a lot of people see it as an unwelcome secret extra charge.
So here's my message to providers on this: just be crystal clear about line rental. Don't force people to work out how much they have to pay - build the no bulls**t button into your own pricing and just tell them outright. Because not only will it make it easier for people to switch to a package that meets their budget, they'll probably hate you less.
Count the discount
Simplifying line rental isn't the only thing that the ASA wants providers to do. It also thinks they should highlight the length of contracts, and be clearer about exactly how much customers need to pay post-discount.
Many broadband packages offer discounts for part of the contract term. For example, broadband might be free for six months of an 18-month contract, and then £10 a month for the remaining 12 months. And of course, that wasn't including line rental.
That's actually a really good deal, but… well it's also ruddy complicated isn't it? Sure, that 'free broadband' offer makes one heck of a compelling advert, but there are real monthly costs involved that busy or inattentive people might skip over. If you live and breathe broadband like us, you learn to understand how these deals work clearly, but for those who have… y'know actual lives, it can lead to unexpected costs. That's something that tends to wind people up.
And then there's upfront costs of course, adding more confusion to how much people will have to pay. It's no wonder so many people avoid switching and end up paying more than they need to.
ASA to the rescue?
Now, you're probably thinking that a lot of this is obvious stuff, so why haven't providers done anything about it? And why is it so important that the ASA actually succeeds in implementing these rulings? TalkTalk, which to its credit has been very outspoken in the past about a need to simplify broadband advertising, explains it quite elegantly:
"Until the whole market moves to single prices, any company that advertises its products like this will struggle to compete with what look like better deals from other providers."
If TalkTalk, for example, suddenly started advertising its packages as costing £22 a month, while BT, Sky, Plusnet, EE et al were promoting £5 or £10 a month deals… well, let's just say it wouldn't be the best month for the sales team.
The ASA will make a final decision on the ruling by 30 May this year. I have my fingers crossed that it will all be approved without compromise, because broadband's as crucial for the home as gas, electricity or a picture of the family pretending to enjoy themselves on holiday.
And something that important should not be obscured by a thick sticky crust of complexity. It needs to be cleaned up and made crystal clear, so more people get the internet connection they need, and pay a fair price for it.