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AAISP Boss Highlights the Problem of Virgin Media’s Fibre Optic Claim

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014 (10:10 am) - Score 3,862

The complaints department for cable operator Virgin Media has admitted that one of its leaflets was “worded badly” after the Managing Director of broadband provider AAISP (Andrews and Arnold), Adrian Kennard, complained that their claim of using a “fibre optic cable to install the services at the customers property” was misleading.

The abuse of “fibre optic” in marketing promotions by broadband ISPs that often only supply slower hybrid-fibre (e.g. FTTC, DOCSIS / FTTN etc.) solutions, which usually connect the last few tens, hundreds or even thousands of metres into your home via an older coaxial or copper cable, is nothing new to the pages of ISPreview.co.uk (see last year’s editorial – Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up).

In an ideal world ISPs would only use the “fibre optic” wording in their service promotions if an actual fibre optic cable was being run all the way to your building (e.g. FTTH, FTTP, FTTB etc.), which has the capability to deliver Gigabit (1000Mbps+) speeds and to go even faster in the future.

But sadly the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) sees no problem with this and thus hybrid-fibre solutions, such as BT’s up to 80Mbps FTTC and Virgin Media’s 152Mbps DOCSIS3 network, are often marketed as fibre optic even when you don’t actually get a fibre optic cable to your home. As a result true fibre optic providers like B4RN, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear, which offer a full fibre optic service, are left at a promotional disadvantage.

However the outspoken boss of AAISP, Adrian Kennard, recently decided that enough was enough. The situation began in early April when Kennard had the service installed at a building as part of his work for the Open Rights Group (ORG) and he promptly highlighted Virgin’s claim that their “broadband comes down fibre optic cable instead of your phone line” (a tad misleading perhaps).

Kennard then decided to complain and a few weeks later Virgin Media responded by saying, “Just to inform you we provide copper coax cable till the main box and from there we use the fibre optic cable to install the services at the customers property.” The wording, which was also mirrored by a second individual at Virgin Media a few days later (seems like a shared script), could easily be misinterpreted to read that they’re installing fibre optic cable directly into the home, which of course they are not.

Adrian Kennard’s response to VM’s reply:

I am still slightly puzzled. You are stating, quite clearly, that you “use the fibre optic cable to install the services at the customers property”. This is what I expected for “fibre optic broadband” ordered at my home. However, I watched the installation and have looked at the cable used, and I can be 100% sure that you did not “use fibre optic cable to install the services at the customers property”. Please let me know when you will be back to “use fibre optic cable to install the services at the customers property” as it is clear from your letter that this is what should have happened. Let me know if I need to take more time off work.”

The situation appeared to come to a head this weekend when a member of Virgin Media’s complaint team called Adrian to discuss the case and what follows is a truly interesting call, which can be listened to in full by following the link on Adrian’s latest blog post (here) and it makes for a very entertaining and informative conversation.

Suffice to say that the call reminded us a little bit of those scenes in Jaws ™ where the shark (Adrian) relentlessly picks off the crew of Quint’s vessel (Virgin), most of which are left to hopelessly flail about in an attempt to fight the inevitable truth of their demise; except in this version not even Brody survives.

During the call Virgin’s agent, whom repeatedly attempts to say that their service is fibre optic and at one point even describes the fibre as being “twisted pair” (that’s not fibre), also claims that BT doesn’t provide FTTP to residential properties (actually they do, albeit with very limited coverage – BTInfinity 3 – 4) and notes that this is because his parents “are on BT and they don’t have FTTP” (brilliant argument). Adrian, taking BT’s side for once, then warns Virgin that the remark about BT not giving FTTP to homes is an “untrue statement against a competitor of your service“.

Initially the agent also suggests that there is no-one Adrian can take to alternative dispute resolution, although later he does clarify that Virgin’s ADR complaints handler is actually CISAS. The good news is that Virgin’s agent does eventually concede that the promotions might have been “badly worded” and when ISPreview.co.uk raised this same concern with Virgin Media in late April a spokesperson promised to investigate and “feed back to relevant parts of the business“.

However, short of the ASA changing its position, the “fibre optic” confusion is likely to continue and it remains equally important to stress that this is by no means an issue unique to Virgin Media. Many ISPs, such as those using BT’s FTTC service, make similar claims that fall into the same pool. On top of that it’s fair to say that we feel a bit sorry for Virgin’s agent, whom perhaps didn’t realise what he was getting into and did a good job of keeping his composure during a difficult call.

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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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