Last November, cable operator Virgin Media launched a Stop The Broadband Con website intended to enable "frustrated web users to make their voice heard and support calls for all broadband providers to publish the real speeds they deliver to customers".
However, Sky mounted a legal challenge against the website, arguing that it was "grossly misleading" and gave the "implication that Sky 'say they'll give you superfast broadband but deliver a service stuck in the slow lane'".
The satellite broadcaster particularly hit out at a video posted by Virgin Media on YouTube before Christmas, which contained the message "learn from Aladdin...Don't get conned this Christmas". Sky took the line to be a reference to its own 'Fairytales' broadband advertising campaign.
Sky and fellow internet service provider BT also submitted complaints about the website to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), claiming that it included various "misleading" suggestions about their services.
Virgin Media attempted to argue that there was "widespread dissatisfaction among consumers about the advertising of broadband speeds". According to the latest research by Ofcom, the average broadband speed in Britain was 6.2Mbps by the end of 2010, just 45% of the average 'up to' speed of 13.8Mbps being advertised by ISPs.
Virgin Media wants Ofcom to introduce a 'typical speed range' on broadband advertising enabling consumers to make "an informed choice". It said that the Stop The Broadband Con website was intended purely as a "place to voice consumer concern" over the issue of broadband advertising.
However, the ASA opted to uphold all of Sky and BT's complaints against the site, after judging that it made "repeated references" to consumers being "conned" by other broadband providers.
"We considered the ad went beyond highlighting the disparity Virgin believed existed between advertised broadband speeds compared to those that were delivered and that it implied other ISPs dealt with consumers dishonestly in relation to broadband speeds," said the ASA.
"Stop The Broadband Con was also likely to be interpreted as suggesting other ISPs dealt with consumers dishonestly in relation to broadband speeds, rather than as highlighting Virgin's concerns about the disparity they believed existed between broadband advertising and speeds delivered to consumers. We therefore concluded that the claims were denigratory."
The ASA ruled that the Stop The Broadband Con campaign must not appear again in its current form, and it also ordered Virgin Media to ensure its marketing material "does not discredit or denigrate other marketers" in the future.