Broadband Speeds and Technology in the Advertising Spotlight – and views from Francesamiragazzane
In the autumn 2016, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the advertising watchdog, started investigating potentially misleading advertising practices amongst internet service providers. In November 2016, the ASA stated the use of descriptions of broadband speeds such as “up to” in broadband commercials could be considered confusing to some consumers. In the spring of 2017, the ASA explored the use of the terms “fibre” in broadband advertisements.
Virgin Media, BT, and Communication Providers using the BT Openreach network currently advertise their broadband services as “superfast fibre optic”, or as “ultrafast fibre” in their marketing. A survey commissioned by CityFibre, Gigaclear, and Hyperopic (full fibre providers only) showed that some consumers complained about the lack of transparency and accuracy of these fibre advertisements.
In March 1st 2017, Government published the Digital Strategy stating that advertising for broadband should reflect more accurately the actual speeds consumers can expect to receive. The Strategy also indicates that advertisements should describe the technology used, and the term ‘fibre’ should only be used for full fibre solutions (i.e. where fibre is the only technology used rather than fibre-copper or fibre-coaxial cable solutions). The Parliament debate that followed the publication of the Strategy reinforced MPs concerns that views the use of the term “fibre” could be misinterpreted by consumers.
Parallel to the Government and the ASA’s work on broadband advertisement, Ofcom committed to increase transparency in the telecoms industry and recently launched a mobile and broadband speed checker app. Ofcom is also reviewing its existing voluntary Codes of Practice for broadband speeds as part of its duties under the Connected Continent Regulation.
On the other side of the channel , the French Government tackled the issue of misleading fibre broadband advertising by introducing in March 2016 legislation restricting the use of the terms “fibre” in adverts and marketing materials to Fibre to the Home (FTTH). If the terms “fibre” or “optical fibre” are used for a connection other than FTTH, the advert should clearly and visibly indicate that the fibre technology doesn’t provide the whole of the connection. For adverts other than radio adverts, these would also need to mention the actual technology used to ensure the connection to the home. The legislation also goes as far as imposing that adverts include information on upload speed when download speed is indicated for a fixed line.
This month, the ASA has asked consultancy Define Research & Insight Ltd to determine if the use of “fibre broadband” in adverts by part-fibre service providers is misleading to customers. That research is expected to be released by the end of the summer to determine if the ASA needs to take further action regarding the matter.
By Gabriel Healy