ASA rules in BT’s favour on fibre-to-the-cabinet complaints

The ASA has not upheld complaints that BT misled consumers when it claimed its Infinity service was fibre-optic broadband

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled in BT’s favour after receiving complaints that the telco’s claims that its BT Infinity service was fibre optic were misleading.

The complaints were received on the understanding that BT Infinity was provided through a fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) connection as opposed to fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), and therefore it was wrong to describe it as fibre optic broadband because it was still crossing the last mile on copper lines.

The FTTC versus FTTP debate has been a hot-button issue for many in the vigorous debate currently raging over UK broadband delivery.

Many say the speeds promised by superfast broadband providers are not possible with a “halfway-house” FTTC solution and want operators to bite the bullet and commit to a full-scale FTTP roll-out.

Parts of BT’s Openreach network are FTTP, according to BT’s own figures, which suggest that 144,000 premises can currently access fibre directly to their property. This means that FTTP accounts for 0.7% of Openreach’s fibre network. Other providers touch 150,000 more with FTTP.

In contrast, Openreach can touch 19.08 million premises in the UK with FTTC, said BT, which added in its defence that take-up of FTTP was generally low because it was not being extensively advertised and thus, general understanding of it was not yet widespread.

In light of this, said BT, the increase in availability of FTTC in recent years meant consumers were far more likely to know what FTTC was, and were not likely to be misled by the term fibre optic.

The telco added that in any case, the components of FTTC broadband were largely fibre optic and it was those components that offered the biggest benefits over copper-based ADSL services.

In its judgement, the ASA said: “We considered that consumers who might be interested in 'fibre optic' broadband of one sort or another would primarily be concerned with the improved speed and performance which could be delivered in comparison to an ADSL connection, and the cost at which that service could be obtained, rather than being concerned with obtaining the most technologically advanced fibre optic product available at any cost.

“We therefore considered the use of the term 'fibre optic' to denote a broadband connection which primarily comprised fibre optic cable whilst including non-fibre optic cable as a small proportion of the overall connection was unlikely to mislead the average consumer. We concluded the ads did not breach the code.”

BT in the stocks

Boris Ivanovic, chairman of FTTP provider Hyperoptic, disagreed with the ASA’s ruling, rejecting the idea that anything other than true fibre as fibre optic was not misleading to consumers.

 “There is a fundamental difference between fibre-to-the-cabinet and ‘fibre' broadband – FTTC broadband is still delivered over copper, which is why the service is unreliable, distance-dependent and subject to peak-time slowdowns,” said Ivanovic.

“With true FTTP broadband, speeds are faster, symmetric and reliable. The products and consumer experiences are completely different.”

Ivanovic accused the ASA of inaccurately presuming that people researching superfast broadband were knowledgeable enough to fully understand the difference, saying that BT’s adverts did not mention speed, but just said Infinity was “superfast fibre optic broadband”.

 “Allowing this confusion to continue is also anti-competitive and detrimental to the providers that are offering FTTP broadband services,” he said. “Differentiating the product and educating consumers is nigh-impossible when the industry monopoly is allowed to confuse the market.”

The ASA’s full judgement is available online here. BT had no further comment to make, other than that contained in its submission.

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