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

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 (7:58 am) - Score 1,593
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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.

Leave a Comment
15 Responses
  1. This ruling from the same muppets who seem to think that a twisted pair or coax connection to the house constitutes Fibre Optic broadband!

    I wonder who it was who complained?

  2. Avatar PhilT says:

    I think it’s fair enough, B4RN’s “up to 750M”* service should be advertised to the same rules as any other.

    The standard of proof is as I recall a speed that marketing material must now only make a speed claim that at least 10% of customers can achieve so if 10% of speed tests are >=1 Gbit/s they can claim “up to 1 Gbit/s”.

    *my guess from the best posted screenshots of speed tests.

  3. Avatar dragoneast says:

    We pay the costs for all this nonsense (sorry, entertainment). Does it actually help any actual potential user? No advertisement is ever designed to tell the truth.

  4. Avatar Party Political Parrott says:

    Only amazed they haven’t come down on Virgin Media who ‘claim’ that they are the fastest provider of fibre services. Add to that Ofcom and their support of this in their broadband speeds testing and it makes a mockery of the ASA’s judgement on Gigaclear. The ASA only have to look at Virgins own support Forum or Facebook VM page to see many, many disgruntled users complaining about poor speeds, service etc. etc. and this despite Virgin’s outrageous claims that they are providing x when in fact only delivering y speeds.

    Perhaps ISP review could take a look through the VM social network and VM’s own forums – I’m sure there is a story in all of that about failing to deliver on advertised services or something similar.

    1. Avatar No clue says:

      “Only amazed they haven’t come down on Virgin Media who ‘claim’ that they are the fastest provider of fibre services.”

      Er no they claim Ofcom found them to be the fastest, Virgin there self claim make no such claim.

  5. Avatar Jon says:

    Great. Well done ASA. We now have “up to” meaning two completely different things.

    On the one hand for ADSL/FTTC, you buy, say, an “up to” 24Mbps product only to find it will only ever do 1.5Mbps because you happen to live a long way from the exchange.

    In the Gigaclear case, all customers have the capability of seeing 1Gbps, but may get a lot less because the server at the other end can’t keep up, or may see some degradation at busy times (not currently according to Gigaclear, but there’s the potential in the future).

    In my mind, there’s a fundamental difference. If someone offered me “Up to 24Mbps” with the Gigaclear meaning, I’d jump at the chance as it would be a huge improvement on my “Up to 24Mbps” connection that sees 1.5Mbps the whole time.

  6. Avatar X66yh says:

    I was the complainant to the ASA.
    It arose after a local conversation where I was told that with Gigaclear you would always get the stated speed. They said they had been told this by Gigaclear.
    I explained clearly that this was not true and why it was not so for domestic grade connections – if you wanted full speed 24/7/365 you bought a virtual leased line at huge expense from them.
    I was told it was, their website effectively said this and I was talking rubbish.
    I know I’m not, I checked the website and believed it to be deliberately misrepresenting so I complained to the ASA last year.

    This has implications for all future FTTP marketing so the ASA investigation was detailed with several to/fro’s etc to establish future policy on this point.
    It was important to establish the policy at the beginning of FTTP availability to the public and not later.
    I was asked for further comments as part of the deliberations. I have been aware of the final decision for a while but was under a NDA in respect of it.
    The press received advanced on Monday also under a NDA prior to its release today.

    …..and the lesson is not to tell someone who knows a lot that they are talking rubbish and is an idiot!

    1. Many thanks for the post. It is much appreciated, and I fully accept your points.

    2. Avatar No clue says:

      Ironically freddie may have done them a favour, if the claim of…. “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.”

      Which has been made to the ASA is true they can now advertise an UPTO service at a higher speed than they were claiming on their web site previously.

  7. Avatar Michael says:

    It does look like it is time for the ASA to understand a few real world truths before life gets more complicated.

    If fibre comes to your door its is fibre – FACT
    If copper comes to your door it is copper – FACT
    If coax comes to your door it is coax – FACT

    This is global common sense. If you then want to talk about the service over any of the different media then language around average or full speed etc is equally valid. By allowing “Fibre Broadband” to be highjacked to mean something it isn’t in the english language by BT and Virgin has been a massive UK mistake.

    1. Avatar Phil says:

      FTTC/ADSL/ADSL2/ADSL2+ is copper to the door (BT 7 Isp’s)
      FTTP, FTTH & FTTPoD is fibre to the door (BT & Leased Line)
      FTTN is coax to the door (Virgin Media)

  8. Avatar Phil says:

    For fibre / cable u need 500Mbps homeplug, 600N wireless router, 1Gigabit Lan Ethernet

  9. Avatar FibreFred says:

    Whilst I understand that all home broadband provisions are contended if Gigaclear can back up there claims as they are under subscribing I don’t see why the ASA would have an issue?

    Sounds like assumptions to me… lets have some Gigaclear customers complain they don’t get those speeds before pulling ads

  10. Avatar zemadeiran says:

    If my PC’s Ethernet port syncs with my router at 1gbps then I have a 1gbps connection between the two.

    If my adsl2+ router syncs with the dslam at my local exchange at 8mbps then I have an 8mbps connection.

    If my fiber optic FTTH connection syncs with the FTTH OLT at 1gbps then I have a 1gbps connection.

    Whether or not I can sftp or http at 1gbps from a server in some data center here or abroad makes not difference as we are purely talking about connection sync for the last mile which I believe the ASA is concerned about.

    Everything else is just flannel…

  11. Avatar FTTX says:

    The ASA are a Joke.

    In 2008 everyone was up in arms (SKY / TalkTalk / BT etc) about Virgin medias ‘Fibre Broadband’. We joked that if DOCSIS was Fibre broadband so was DSL.

    Not funny anymore. ASA started this decline into advertising nonsense.

    Personally I think that it should go ‘Gloves off’ and everyone should just cut through the spin.
    For Example,

    Gigaclear deliver the network that BT deliver plan for 2035*. TODAY!

    *BT have 4 Networks to step through before achieving Point-2-Point fibre. FTTC, GFAST, GPON, 10GPON so 2035 is an optimistic figure.

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