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Confusion as ASA Ban Gigaclear’s Absolute FTTP Broadband Speed Claims

Wednesday, Mar 5th, 2014 (7:58 am) - Score 1,617
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Sometimes rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority can seem a little overzealous and their latest decision to stop rural fibre optic broadband ISP Gigaclear from advertising absolute Internet speeds (e.g. 1000Mbps without the notorious “up to” prefix) on their website might just stray into that territory. Hyperoptic, B4RN and Gigler take note.

The ASA noted how a promotional claim on Gigaclear’s website promised that “each customer connection to the Gigaclear network runs at 1000Mbps (1Gbps) for uploads and 1000Mbps (1Gbps) for downloads regardless of time of day, weather or distance from the cabinet“, which was similarly adjusted to reflect subscribers on their slower speed packages (e.g. 50Mbps, 100Mbps etc.).

But a complainant challenged the wording and broadly suggested that the “ad misleadingly implied that customers would always receive the stated speed capacity for the service they had purchased, because they believed the speed customers would receive was dependent on additional factors.”

Gigaclear responded by providing data from their customers’ usage and line speeds. On top of that they claimed to have a “significant backhaul capacity” in proportion to their relatively low number of customers. The ISP then made clear that their Permitted Information Rate (PIR) was set at 10% “higher” than the advertised speed capacity (most ISPs go in the opposite direction for PIR), thus somebody on their 50Mbps package might actually receive 55Mbps.

ASA Ruling (Ref: A13-241560)

The ad included details of the stability of Gigaclear’s network; noting that the network ran at 1000 Mbps for uploads and downloads regardless of time of day, weather or distance from the cabinet. The ad also made no reference to the speed of the service being ‘up to’. In that context, we considered consumers would understand the ad to mean that customers would always receive the stated speed capacity for the service they purchased.

Whilst we acknowledged that the majority of the line-speed data demonstrated that the advertiser’s customers received the stated speed capacity, we were concerned that a number of instances, in the relatively small data sample, showed that Gigaclear’s customers did not achieve the stated speed capacity. Because we considered the speed claims were absolute in nature and because we had not seen sufficient evidence to support those claims, we concluded that the ad breached the Code.

The ASA banned the promotion and told Gigaclear to ensure that their “ads were not likely to mislead consumers in future“, which is a decision that could potentially impact other Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) style providers like Hyperoptic, B4RN, Gigler and so forth, where absolute speed claims are often used. In fact a lot of non-fibre ISPs still promote speeds in absolutes and we’ve seen plenty of smaller ISPs do this for ADSL, Satellite, Wireless and FTTC connections, which are much more likely to deliver variable performance.

But the ruling does raise important questions about network performance. The reality of networking technology is that connection performance is almost never perfectly reflective of a headline speed. Even true fibre optic ISPs sometimes still need to manage their traffic but Gigaclear doesn’t appear to be at that stage. Similarly speed testers can be inaccurate and you’re far more likely to find a bottle neck with remote Internet services or client-side hardware than at your ISP on a true fibre optic provider, especially one like Gigaclear that has surplus capacity.

On top of that it’s unclear what the ASA would deem “sufficient evidence” to be from a small ISP, which will only ever be able to produce an equally small sample size. In this instance we don’t know how “small” that sample actually was but we’d like to think that the ASA also considered proportionality in their ruling.

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Mark-Jackson
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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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