Britain's internet service providers have been told to completely overhaul the way they advertise broadband speeds.

The way in which broadband speeds have been sold, with speeds far higher than the average received for the package and unlimited services that are actually nothing of the kind, has long been a bugbear for consumers and a ruling by the Committees of Advertising Practice has ruled that this must change.

Now, any speed claim must be achievable by 10 per cent or more of the customer base, the term superfast must be qualified with a number that can be achieved by 10 per cent and speeds must use 'up to' and include qualifications.

Traffic management

The ruling also suggests that speed restrictions should be 'moderate' and should still allow lawful online activities such as streaming – it also must be clearly explained.

Another key change is around the term 'unlimited' which can only be used if "the user incurs no additional charge or suspension of service as a consequence of exceeding a usage threshold associated with a 'fair usage policy' (FUP), a traffic management policy or similar; and limitations that do affect the speed or usage of the service are moderate only and are clearly explained in the advertisement."

Some might suggest that the ruling does not go far enough; companies can still use 'up to' and 10 per cent of the users reaching the speed is still not often representative of the average.

Inevitably, Virgin Media – a company whose mainly fibre optic network has left them firmly at top spot in the Ofcom rankings – has welcomed the ruling.

Transparency

"This is a much needed and long awaited victory for consumers," said Virgin's Jon James.

"The new rules are a big step in the right direction and the greater transparency will ensure people can make more informed choices.

"ISPs will no longer be able to hide behind generic terms or catch-all claims which they simply cannot deliver. However there needs to be vigilant scrutiny to ensure this is genuinely applied to all marketing and that the spirit behind this demand for change is upheld, not just the minimum necessary is done to be acceptable.

"This new guidance only requires that 10% of customers get what is advertised, but Virgin Media is committed to continuing to lead this industry.

"Ofcom has shone a torch on this issue by publishing regular speed reports which have, together with pressure from the Government, consumer groups and thousands of customers across the country, helped push for this critical change."