Just how free is 'free' when you buy into broadband?

As new services launch against a backdrop of hype and controversy, it gets harder to make the right choice

It was a busy week for broadband, and a bruising one too.

As pay-TV broadcaster Sky pitched into the "free" broadband market, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rapped rival provider TalkTalk on the knuckles for misleading consumers in parts of its television and print publicity, and in a CD promotion.

Most of the big broadband providers also locked horns - chiefly in response to the Sky launch - and swamped newspapers, magazines and television stations with ads in a frantic bid for customers.

But the ASA ruling will make providers think carefully before emblazoning the term "free" across future promotions.

In the case of TalkTalk - which is owned by The Carphone Warehouse - the advertising watchdog has curbed its use of the word "free" after receiving 145 complaints from the public and rival companies, including BT and Tiscali, about its ads.

Three complaints were upheld: that it was misleading to use the word "free" when a host of other charges (see the table) were applied; that its "free broadband forever" claim was misleading; and that the geographical reach of the service wasn't made sufficiently clear.

As a result, TalkTalk must water down its claims.

In the first case, the company must now replace "free" with "inclusive" when promoting its Talk 3 International telephone package, which allows customers to surf the web at high speed without charge.

Second, the "free broadband forever" slogan is to be dropped. Third, TalkTalk must make it clear that its deal is only available in 70 per cent of the UK.

However, consumers will still see TalkTalk advertising a "free broadband" package. Industry rules for telecoms promotions determine that the word "free" can be used when the service is an add-on to an existing deal.

The ASA could clamp down on Talk 3 International because it was, in effect, a new telephone calls package deliberately set up with broadband. However, TalkTalk also offers a separate calls package called Talk 3. It has now decided to use this existing deal to advertise the newly added-on broadband as "free".

The cost of this package - with unlimited telephone calls to UK landlines - is £8.99 a month plus £11 line rental.

Unlike its Talk 3 International counterpart, there is no connection fee but the same 18-month contract and disconnection fee of up to £70 apply.

"We are keeping a watching brief on the use of the word 'free'. The ruling on Carphone Warehouse applies to everybody," says an ASA spokesman.

The ASA has not received any complaints about a rival Orange offer that has been advertising itself as "free" broadband, he adds. This is understandable since, in line with the ASA rules, the free offer was launched two months ago as a bolt-on to a number of existing Orange deals, although customers signing up for the service may need to extend their current contracts to qualify.

Sky's entry into the "free" broadband market had been widely trailed but the terms took many of the switching websites by surprise. Its "Base" deal (see the table) - the simplest of the three new internet offers on the table - is described as "genuinely free broadband" by Tim Wolfenden of uSwitch.

But as usual, terms and conditions apply. To receive its basic broadband package - a 2Mb speed, fast enough for music downloads - free of charge, you need to be an existing Sky customer. And its most basic TV package costs £15 a month on a minimum 12-month contract.

There is also a one-off £40 "activation" fee to pay, and if you're not confident about installing broadband in your home, it will cost £50 for a technician to come round and do it for you.

As with all these deals, you must first be within reach of its broadband coverage. Today, Sky's service - which is being pumped around the country through its own cables - only covers 28 per cent of British homes, largely in London, Birmingham, Man-chester, Edinburgh and Glasgow (go to the website below to find out if you can receive the service). It hopes to cover 70 per cent of the country by the end of 2007.

"The Sky offer could affect the broadband market dramatically because it has four million customers who are currently with other providers," says Mr Wolfenden.

"Very soon, [these people] are going to be able to turn around [to their existing broadband provider] and say 'why should I carry on paying for my internet connection?' "

Sky customers not covered by its broadband network can sign up to a separate, faster deal called "Mid". This will be available over rented BT lines for £17 a month. This has an internet speed of up to 8Mb - enough for film downloads and online video gaming - and you can store up to 40GB of material online.

Alternatively, this deal is open to all those Sky customers covered by its broadband network for much less - £5 a month.

The third strand of Sky's broadband assault is its "Max" option. Again available only to those receiving its broadband coverage, a monthly £10 gets you a speed of up to 16 Mb and unlimited downloads of digital files such as films and music.

With each of these three options, an extra "bundled" deal allows unlimited landline phone calls for £5 a month, though you do need a BT landline.

Karen Darby, the chief executive of the SimplySwitch website, says she had hoped Sky would not have " tied customers in for a year" and instead agreed to allow shorter contracts such as those offered by Virgin.

"Bundled products are generally not suitable for all users, and those who do not want a TV package [with their broadband] should look at some of the many competitively priced alternatives available."

With Vodafone and other providers set to bring their own broadband deals to market, she expects more innovative offers and "to see prices fall even further over the next 12 months".

With any broadband deal, always scour the small print to check the length of the contract and whether the provider imposes any disconnection fees.

And always make sure you choose a package that suits you: there's no point getting a super- fast broadband speed of 8Mb if you only go online to shop and send emails.

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH THE NEW BOYS OF BROADBAND?

Provider Contract length 1st-year cost 2nd-year cost Package

TalkTalk/Talk 3 Int'l
Contract length: 18 months
1st-year cost: £281.87
2nd-year cost: £251.88
Package: Up to 8Mb speed; £20.99 monthly phone deal; £29.99 connection charge

Orange
Contract length: 18 months
1st-year cost: £360
2nd-year cost: £360
Package: 2Mb speed; £30 monthly phone contract; £11 monthly line rental

Sky Base
Contract lentgth: 12 months
1st-year cost: £220
2nd-year cost: £180
Package: Basic deal 2Mb; £15 TV deal; £40 activation fee

News
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Supply Teachers Required

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of Pay, Excellent CPD : Randstad Educati...

NQT and Experienced Primary Teachers Urgently required

£90 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: NQT and Experienced Primary Teac...

Year 1 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day + Excellent rates of pay, Free CPD: Randstad Education Sou...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor