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FTTH Council Europe slams misleading advertising for fibre networks

Fibre broadband trade body study shows consumers are confused about marketing and performance of broadband-access technologies, recommending a ‘fibre-ready’ label should be introduced for new buildings and major renovations

As it advocates for regulatory and national authorities to support its work in the ramping up of fibre networks across the region, the FTTH Council Europe is calling on European policy makers to take action on what it says is ambiguous and confusing marketing material from those offering fibre services.

In the report Identifying European best practice in fibre advertising, prepared by WiK, the FTTH Council Europe found that European consumers are confused about the terms used to market broadband access technologies, and find it difficult to identify which networks provide the best performance. Consumers often think they have fibre access when they do not.

The trade association noted that telecom regulatory authorities have an objective to promote investment in, and take up of, very high capacity networks – fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and fibre-to-the-building (FTTB) – but usually have limited scope to address issues of awareness in advertising.

Moreover, it warns that advertising standards authorities, which do have competence over advertising, may have less expertise to grasp the wider implications of different technological solutions for broadband. They also have no mandate to promote the objective of fostering investment in, and take-up of, fibre networks.

The study found that the strongest and most effective forward-looking interventions in the market have been driven by the national regulatory authority (NRA) or digital/telecom ministry of the country in question, rather than the advertising authority. Those interventions are said to have ranged from a labelling regime in Italy introduced by AGCOM to a prohibition on the use of the term ‘fibre’ in France, except where fibre genuinely reaches into the home or premises.

The report had a number of call to actions and clear policy recommendations, such as guidelines at EU level by the European Commission to foster the involvement of NRAs and/or ministries across Europe and to better align policy approaches to advertising broadband with the objectives established under the code. The review of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive provides an opportunity to consider mandatory labelling schemes to address the problem.

“We call on European policy-makers to address the issue of misleading advertising and we believe that when assessing cases, the experience of NRAs would make a huge difference,” said Vincent Garnier, director general of the FTTH Council Europe.

“The revision of the Broadband Cost Reduction Directive is also an opportunity to address this critical issue, and the FTTH Council Europe proposes the introduction of a ‘fibre-ready’ label for new buildings and major renovations.”

Eric Festraets, president of the FTTH Council Europe, added: “Italy and France have shown that the problem of misleading advertising for fibre products can be tackled. There are a number of positive examples of controls on fibre advertising, and the FTTH Council Europe believes that now is the time to take action at EU level so that all European consumers and businesses can make an informed choice about the products which are available to them.”

As it was warning about misleading advertising, the FTTH Council Europe released a follow-up to its study on copper switch-off, also prepared by WIK. The latest study builds on the outcomes of last year’s report with additional questionnaires and interviews with selected stakeholders.

It further highlights the benefits of copper switch off to the environment, society, consumers, investors and operators, as well as possible implications for policy-makers and regulators, and calls attention to the challenges and potential solutions that will ease the transition to fibre infrastructures across Europe.

Among the findings were that since the previous report last year, Estonia has made the most progress of the 10 European countries analysed, with up to 80% of copper exchanges switched-off in 2020. Sweden was also found to have made significant progress towards migration. Concrete plans to shut copper off have been put in place in France and the Netherlands, and discussions are currently taking place in the UK.

In the meantime, despite high FTTH/B penetration levels, the pace of copper switch-off was identified as slow in Spain and Portugal. The FTTH Council Europe added that countries such as Germany and Poland have not announced concrete plans yet, however the completion of PSTN2 switch-off in Germany is likely to facilitate migration when fibre is widespread.

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