I’ve come across this before and complained (to no avail, but the vent was worth it) but today I discovered that Ofcom has an accreditation scheme for broadband sites. This sounded promising so I checked out the two sites that I was advised had received said accreditation: SimplifyDigital.co.uk and BroadbandChoices.co.uk.
Long-time readers (pretending there are any) will know that misleading advertising broadband is a major pet peeve of mine. Not misselling speeds, because there’s no reliable way an ISP can accurately predict what speed your line will take (if you don’t already have broadband). This mis-selling is much worse; I’m talking about the companies who lie in their headline speeds by advertising broadband “from £4.99 a month” for the first three months, £14.99 thereafter, 12 month contract applies, not inclusive of compulsory phone-line rental.
Of course companies will continue to advertise lies like this as long as they get away with it, even the once-honest Plus net (who I do otherwise like) have now jumped on the bandwagon claiming they need to compete with scum like Tiscali and BT. Until someone takes them up on it they’ll continue lying and cheating customers with scant regard for concepts like honesty and integrity, but surely we can expect more of the broadband comparison sites who are, after all, fighting for a fair deal for the consumer, right?
Wrong. It seems the comparison sites get all caught up in the headline figures and thus actively encourage the misleading advertising that broadband companies seem so keen on.
Broadband Choices are easily the better of the two – their default display is sorted by “first year cost” (which would also include activation/connection charges), but they still display the monthly charge as the introductory offer figure. In fact, they don’t display the actual monthly charge at all.
SimplifyDigital, on the other hand, is a complete joke. Not only do they default their display to sort by the “monthly” cost (of the first month) they don’t even give you the option to change that. Worse still, they don’t display a first-year-cost at all. It’s got me so annoyed that had I the time I’d give serious consideration to starting my own broadband comparison site that did a real comparison. They also seem to only list the big names (who presumably pay big commissions!), ignoring smaller providers like Plus Net (sorry to sound like a broken record, but they really are quite good).
An example query at Simplify Digital reveals 5 providers who meet “1 of 2” of my very loose criteria. As it only sorts results by price, the cheapest should be at the top, however the ordering we actually get is:
- Tiscali: £4.49 × 3 + £12.99 × 9
Actual first-year price: £130.38
(inc. line rental = £256.38)
- BT: £7.95 × 3 + £15.99 × 9
Actual first-year price: £167.76
(inc. line rental = £293.76)
- AOL: £9.99 × 3 + £19.99 × 9
Actual first-year price: £209.88
(inc. line rental = £335.88)
- Orange: £10 × 3 + £20× 9
Actual first-year price: £210
(inc. line rental = £336)
- TalkTalk: £15.49 (inc. line rental) × 12
Actual first-year price: £185.88
It looks ok at first glance but you’ll quickly notice that if you look at the whole year instead of the first month things are not what they seem. Include line rental and TalkTalk is the cheapest, not the most expensive. Even excluding line rental TalkTalk should leap ahead of AOL and Orange into 3rd. What’s the point in a comparison site that only lets you rank results by price and doesn’t even do that right? (By the way, I’d personally steer clear of all 5 of those companies, but that’s just my bad experience with Tiscali coupled with scare stories about the rest).
So there you have it: broadband comparison sites that instead of siding with consumers actually encourage introductory offers and misleading headline figures – practices designed to confuse consumers and make comparisons more difficult. Thanks guys.
Update: I’ve just had a response to an email I sent to SimplifyDigital.
Thank you very much for your feedback…
Regarding our comparison site, the redesign we’re working on at the moment will actually change the results table ranking, to being ranked by first year cost rather than introductory offer cost.