The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld fifteen complainants against BT’s website based broadband availability checker service because it often delivered unreliable “provisional” coverage dates for their UK superfast BTInfinity (FTTC) service and was thus deemed “likely to mislead“.
BTOpenreach, which manages access to the operators national UK telecoms network, has always advised that the dates it sets for local superfast broadband (FTTC/P) availability are provisional and thus open to change (i.e. it’s not uncommon for some upgrades to face delays of up to and beyond 6 months).
Unfortunately BT Retail’s own web-based availability checker didn’t always make this clear and the ISP states that it only moved to make “significant changes to the wording on the Infinity checker” on 16th October 2012. The ASA also noted that one complainant had been informed by BT on 17th October 2012 that plans for the FTTC roll-out in his area had been put on hold.
“We considered that the appearance of a date or provisional date in the availability checker suggested that active plans were in place to roll out BT Infinity in that area and that the service would therefore be available on or around that time, and the listed date should not be subsequently or regularly pushed back. We noted we had not seen supporting documentation showing that, in each of the areas where the complainants were based, the listed date in the availability checker was based on scheduled plans for Openreach to have BT Infinity available in those areas on or around the listed dates.
We considered that the date BT Infinity was expected to be available in their area would be a material consideration for consumers when deciding whether to register an interest in the service. Because we had not seen documentation that showed there were scheduled plans to roll out BT Infinity in the complainants’ areas and make BT Infinity available in those areas on or around the listed dates, and because we understood that, in at least one case, there were currently no plans for BT Infinity to be rolled out in an area while the availability checker listed a provisional date that was less than three months away, we considered that the inclusion of provisional dates was likely to mislead.“
The issue of predicted FTTC availability dates has been a hot one for BT and more than a few people have complained about lengthy delays. But perhaps ironically BT’s overall roll-out is still expected to complete 18 months earlier than originally planned (i.e. completed by spring 2014).
Never the less the ASA told BT that in future its availability checker cannot be used unless they “ensure that [it] only included dates if they corresponded to scheduled plans for Openreach to engineer the BT Infinity service to the corresponding area“, which could also impact similar availability tests by other ISPs.
BT said that they were already working with Openreach on the development of a new superfast online checker, while their existing availability checker was set to be “significantly amended” in early 2013. In the meantime BT reminded that Openreach has a tool on its site that allows customers to enter their postcode and obtain “up-to-date information about the status of their local exchange and their local cabinet“.
Separately Virgin Media escaped the ASA ban hammer after Sky Broadband and another member of the public complained that their “up to” speeds were misleading “because they understood that customers received speeds significantly lower than the stated maximum speeds” (partly due to the impact of Virgin’s Traffic Management policy). The ASA ruled that this was not misleading.
BT Retail has chimed in with an official statement.
A BT Spokeswoman told ISPreview.co.uk:
“This is a disappointing ruling. People clearly want to know when fibre might become available in their area and so BT has been publishing its best estimates on a regular basis. Those plans sometimes have to change however if local planning permission isn’t granted or we find that a third party can’t meet our deadlines.
15 complaints is a tiny number when you consider that BT is enabling tens of thousands of cabinets but we will work with the ASA to make changes where we can as it is clear that people remain keen to know when fibre might reach them.”