TalkTalk – the Salford-based telco which has more than four million broadband customers – has been ticked off by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) following nine separate complaints about misleading ads.
The initial objections centre on two ads – on TV and via email - that ran early in 2020 which talked about a 24-month broadband offer that was "fixed until 2022" or promised "no mid-contract rises."
The ASA intervened when the complainants reported that the price of their broadband packages was to "increase during the fixed contract period" despite the assurances made in the ad.
Following its investigation, the ASA sided with concerns that the ads were "misleading" and banned them.
"We told TalkTalk Telecom Ltd not to claim that prices were 'fixed' or that there would be no mid-contract price rises if that was not the case," said the ad watchdog today.
While this may be seen by some as yet another finger-wagging telling off by the ASA, the decision does have wider implications.
The ASA based its ruling on guidance published by telecoms regulator Ofcom on "mid-contract price rises."
"It made clear that if a communications provider wanted to increase the monthly core subscription price (or prices) agreed by the customer at the point of sale, Ofcom was likely to regard it as a materially detrimental contract," explained the ASA.
As such any change would require the customer to be "given at least one month's written notice of the increase and the right to terminate their contract without penalty," it said.
This protection for customers is important since the rapid rollout of full-fibre is likely to see substantial churn among consumers as they look for the best deals available. And anything that might inhibit competition in the comms marketplace is unlikely to be well received by consumers or regulators.
Only yesterday, Ofcom unveiled its plans to make switching between broadband providers easier despite a number of concerns raised by some service providers.
- Ofcom unveils broadband switching plans, but providers claim it's not so easy
- Dam it: Beaver ate our internet, says tiny Canadian town of Tumbler Ridge
- Ofcom says no price controls on full-fibre broadband until 2031, giving BT's Openreach the kick to 'build like fury'
- UK ISP TalkTalk ready to go PrivatePrivate, says yes to £1.1bn takeover offer
In its defence, TalkTalk told the ASA it considered the COVID-19 pandemic an "exceptional" case and pricing "under their plans was based on a certain level of usage and incremental usage, but not to the extent that such usage increased to during the lockdowns."
It futher told the ASA that it "did not believe consumers expected to pay a fixed price for the level of usage seen during the lockdowns."
No one from TalkTalk was available to comment to The Reg on today's ruling. Nor were they on hand to comment on their agreement with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to offer free broadband for people looking for work.
The voucher scheme gives jobseekers six months of free broadband - with no contract and no credit check - and is designed to help people looking for a new job.
It's already been trialled in Greater Manchester and Cheshire and is now being rolled out across the UK in a bid to tackle the "UK's digital divide".
It will be down to the DWP to identify and refer potential customers of the free service "based on their need."
TalkTalk last year agreed to a £1.1bn takeover led by its second largest shareholder, Toscafund. ®