Should Broadband advertising be 'legal, decent, honest and truthful'? If so ...

Further to my recent blog on the way in which the Advertising Standards Authority has been accused of approving serious “misrepresentation” of the broadband offerings from dominant suppliers and thus helping prolong the current distortion of the market, I have received a number of responses as to what their approach should now be.

I particularly liked that from Dave Cullen, now with ITS , which has been providing high speed networks using hybrid (fibre and wireless) technologies for urban centres , business parks and rural communities for nearly 20 years.  The recent rapid growth of ITS (taking over smaller operators as well as winning ever more and bigger contracts) is indicative of the way the UK communications infrastructure market has changed over the past 18 months and now offers the prospect of genuine competition and growth.

Dave believes that, regardless of whether there is a good case for challenging BT’s claim of “19 million fibred homes” as “mis-representation”, the providers of alternative networks should ask the ASA to follow the logic of its own judgement.

Given that the ASA position appears to be that the issue is around customer’s service expectations and performance, it should be pointed out that Fibre to the Cabinet cannot  deliver  the claimed ‘up to’ levels of performance more than about 700 metres from the cabinet – and that distance is as the copper meanders, not as the crow flies.

Therefore, as a minimum, BT should be obliged to clearly state the “risks” associated with their product within EVERY ad, in much the same way as mortgage and loan companies have to warn that “Interest rates can go up as well as down; your home is at risk if your do not keep up repayments… etc”

BT should similarly be required to say: “our fibre optic service relies on copper for your final connection; it cannot guarantee superfast speed or quality to premises using copper cables longer than 700m from your connected cabinet…

The same would, of course, apply to those whose “fibre” services also depend on reselling the BT Openreach fibre to the cabinet services. It would give BT an incentive to repromote its own fibre to the premises service, instead of hiding it away lest too many customers ask for it and thus overload its creaking backhaul infrastructure. It would, of course, also give its resellers (incuidng Sky and Talk Talk) an added incentive to offer “crapfree” (i.e. no copper, rust, alluminium or other pollutant) broadband using rival local fibre and wireless to the premises providers.  

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Perfectly put Philip. I could not agree more.

It's a regular annoyance when I see the adverts on TV for Fibre Broadband when I know that it is not a completely fibre product.

Often when I make a comment about this on Twitter or wherever, I get responses back stating that from the customer perspective, how the data is delivered is not important so long as the service meets expectations and whilst I agree with that, I believe we are thinking about this the wrong way.

It's not about the description of technology itself but the description of all the delivery technologies together.

Whilst consumers do not need to be concerned in the mechanics of how the data is delivered, they need to be aware of what type of technology is delivering it so the all important comparison can be made.

As we rely more and more on broadband services, consumers are paying more attention to the details and my experience is that they are confused. Due to the area I live, (B4RN is deploying their full fibre service), I regularly get asked questions about it and other providers. Only last week I had to explain to someone that BT's Superfast Fibre Broadband was not the same as B4RN as they had thought and that there was no change in the technology delivering the data between the new cabinet and their house.

BT's service may well have been perfectly suitable for their needs but that is not the point. It's all about comparison of services and technologies and making that clear to consumers.

It's like advertising a car as having four wheels and expecting the customer to be satisfied with that description. They would not be. They would want to know the fuel consumption, engine size and so on.

The recent ruling by the ASA stating that BT can continue to use the fibre description just proves that they have little understanding of the subject. Their statement about comparison to ADSL, which is also part fibre just backs this up.

I see that Which? have now taken up this subject in a new campaign so hopefully things may change. Their petition is here