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Full-fibre broadband supplier CityFibre has been given permission at the High Court to move ahead with a judicial review of the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA’s) November 2017 decision over the use of the word fibre in broadband advertisements.
The ASA’s ruling upheld its already existing rules, which allowed internet service providers (ISPs) to fail to distinguish between a slower fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) service composed of fibre backhaul and copper last mile, and an ultrafast fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), or full-fibre, service.
In coming to this conclusion, the ASA cited research it had commissioned that claimed the term fibre was not a priority identified by consumers when choosing a service, was rarely noticed in ads and, where it was, was seen as a buzzword for faster broadband.
It also said that once told the difference, consumers did not believe they would change their purchasing decision, even if they had chosen an FTTC service.
CityFibre countered by saying this position allowed advertisers to mislead consumers by making it harder for them to come to a meaningful decision about the optimal broadband service for their needs.
It added that because so many more households can now access FTTP – over a million as of January 2018 according to regulator Ofcom – those who could receive such a service were at increasing risk of not knowing.
Because maximising consumer take-up will be critical to the further roll-out of FTTP around the UK, by leaving the status quo intact, the ASA risked jeopardising the national roll-out, and by extension, the success of the UK’s digital economy.
In response to the High Court’s decision, CityFibre founder and CEO Greg Mesch said: “The High Court is seeing sense where the ASA failed to: this is the right decision for consumers and our economy. CityFibre challenged the ASA’s decision because consumers must not be misled into thinking they can get full-fibre benefits on a copper broadband network – they can’t: copper is dead.
“It is now time to sort out these advertising rules once and for all, and for the Government and industry to get behind the nationwide broadband targets set by the chancellor. Companies are investing billions because of the transformative connectivity full fibre brings; the Court has a one-off chance to step in and make a difference for consumers before the mis-selling of broadband becomes the next PPI-style scandal.”
The High Court heard evidence from CityFibre that there were limitations in the methodology the ASA used in the research on which it based its decision, and therefore the organisation was not qualified to make generalisations or to extrapolate its findings more widely. It also argued the demographic selection was unrepresentative of the UK population.
CityFibre also said it was possible to read the findings presented by the ASA in such a way that it actually supported the view that using the word fibre was misleading.
The ASA will now have 35 days to prepare its case.