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ASA UK Ban BT Infinity Superfast Broadband Ads for Misleading Speed Claims

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012 (7:59 am) - Score 895

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld four complaints by Virgin Media against a press (a), TV (b) and internet promotion (c) for the BTInfinity superfast broadband ISP service. The ASA deemed BT’s claims that its service was “unbeatable” and offered “three times faster fibre optic broadband” to be misleading.

As usual the ASA’s ruling comes somewhat after the fact because all of the adverts originally displayed on 6th August 2011, with the TV advert continuing until 25th September 2011. Interestingly nearly all of Virgin Media’s complaints towards BT were upheld because the ISP either did not state its service speeds or the basis for their various related comparisons.

This is an important decision, not least because some ISPs have now stopped promoting their broadband speeds in public (e.g. TalkTalk, Orange UK etc.), which could affect similar claims in the future. This follows a stiffening of the rules by ASA/CAP earlier this month (full details).

VirginMedia’s Complaints

1. VirginMedia and three complainants challenged whether the “unbeatable” claims in ads (a), (b) and (c) were misleading and could be substantiated.

VirginMedia also challenged whether:

2. the “unbeatable” claims in ads (a), (b), and (c) were misleading, because they did not state the speed was available with certain packages only;

3. the claim “Do more online with three times faster fibre optic broadband. Whether you’re into uploading photos and videos to Facebook, downloading all your favourite albums fast or streaming HD movies …” in ad (a) was misleading and could be substantiated, because VirginMedia did not believe BT’s speeds were faster for all the activities listed; and

4. the claim “Four times faster broadband” in ad (c) was misleading and could be substantiated, because it did not state the basis of the comparison.

The ASA ultimately chose to ban all of the adverts, with one particularly poignant remark for the first complaint stating, “we had not seen evidence that BT’s download speeds were unbeatable“. The second complaint was upheld because BT’s “speeds would be received only by those consumers who purchased the Option 2 package” (i.e. the faster 10Mbps upload speeds).

The third complaint was upheld because BT’s claim to “do more online with three times faster fibre optic broadband … had not been substantiated“. The final (4th) complaint was upheld because “the information [comparison] should have been included in the ad“.

As usual the ASA warned BT that its ads must not appear again in their current form, which won’t be a problem because they last ran them in 2011.

ASA Ruling (Complaint Ref:A11-170900)

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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9 Responses
  1. adslmax says:

    They should also ban the words “fibre” and “optic”.

    1. Marvin Smith says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Both BT and Virgin sell ‘fibre optic broadband’… no it’s not. Good speeds yes, I’ll give them that, but if it comes in to the premises on copper it shouldn’t be sold as ‘fibre optic broadband’.

    2. zemadeiran says:

      Exactly! Notice how virgin side stepped the fiber optic broadband quote.

      We have to get together and ask the ASA to ban any advert that states this if in fact they run a hybrid copper/fiber network.

      This pisses me right off!

  2. Mark Jackson says:

    I think that one has been tried on BT already and the ASA tend to reject it. The same goes for Virgin Media using similar claims, despite being mostly coax/copper.

  3. DTMark says:

    That this one still rages is unbelievable when it’s so easy to sort.

    No speed advertised at all.

    Customer given an estimate of speed likely to be achieved at sign-up. That’s the speed the customer should expect to see x% of the time (I’d suggest x is perhaps 85)

    Customer is given access to speed test tool (based on the backhaul network e.g. BTW, O2/BE, C&W etc) which does a “clean” test of the throughput and can be used by ISP and customer

    Customer may use speed test tool to check performance. Throughput. “Not sync rate”. Both customer and ISP agree on shared use of this tool.

    If estimated speed is not achieved x% of the time customer may cancel all services (and any bolt ons or related services) and get a refund within 30 days without question, and a cancellation without penalty at any time thereafter while ordinarily still in contract just paying for what’s been used thus far.

    Any company confident about its services – the quality ISPs – need fear not.

    Companies with ancient unpredictable mixed metal phone networks or oversold cable segments would get a shake-up. 3G operators offering 14.4Mbps to everyone when it’s only available at one cell outside the head office, Bt Infinity “Up to 40Meg” when the top speed is actually about 37Meg, ADSL “8meg” which is actually 6.7Meg… all this gets solved.

    That said, I think Virgin Media already offers the 30 day guarantee. Shame others are too frightened to do so, but then, since the market containing Virgin Media cable services is only about half the country, others can continue to look to their laurels and we’ll continue to see complaints like this.

    Of course, if we had a market, then one company would be free to inovate and offer such a service, and customers could choose, so if the whole country had access to a broadband market then this problem would also begin to be solved.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Yep, although it also makes it very tricky to tell ISPs apart. You have to do the same with every ISP and annoyingly quite a few stick your phone number into their marketing system, so be ready for a lot of annoying call spam.

      I’ve never found the “up to” system all that confusing anyway as nearly all ISPs give you an estimate before you signup. But even then accuracy is a tough thing to achieve, so many things can affect real-world environments.

  4. wirelesspacman says:

    Perhaps they should just ban long term contracts and make them all one month? That way it would not matter so much as if you were not happy then you could easily try someone else.

  5. dragoneast says:

    Trouble is ASA, I surrnise staffed by lawyers (or would-be’s), is hung up on “evidence”. OK in a court (although plenty of people probably think more than enough criminals/respondents get away with it because of insufficient “evidence”) but when you apply the same rules to advertising puff it all comes close to a matter of opinion.

    Who is the fastest (or even best) runner in the world? Does it matter what length/type of race you are talking about, and the conditions? If not, I suspect no two people will agree on what basis you actually make the comparison. The ad and the adjudication are equally meaningless.

  6. Deduction says:

    The next round of banned BT adverts should be in a couple of months Expect to see all the flat 6 ones banned for various reasons along with a couple of so called “special” deals adverts.

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