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UPDATE2 CISAS Advises Virgin Media to Apologise for Fibre Optic Claim

Monday, October 6th, 2014 (9:55 am) - Score 4,351
Virgin Media 2014 UK Logo

The Managing Director of UK comms provider AAISP (Andrews and Arnold), Adrian Kennard, appears to have won at least part of his complaint against Virgin Media, which challenged whether the cable (DOCSIS) operator was right to say that their broadband service used a “fibre optic cable to install the services at the customers property“.

Regular readers will recall that we ran the first part of this story in May 2014 (here), which saw AAISPs boss take on Virgin Media’s description of its cable network as a “fibre optic” broadband product. However, much like BT’s FTTC solution, Virgin’s dominant service is actually a hybrid fibre solution that also uses a mix of coaxial and copper telecoms cable (usually for connecting the short run between a local node and then into homes). The product itself is pretty good, yet true fibre would be much better.

Indeed if either FTTC or Virgin’s DOCSIS Cable network were true “fibre optic” connections then the optical link would reach all the way up to your home and their top speeds would be well above the current 80Mbps and 152Mbps maximums for each respective technology, with many true Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P/B) operators able to deliver performance of up to 1000Mbps. The related confusion over marketing and connection terminology was covered as part of our earlier article – Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up.

But so far neither Ofcom, nor the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), has seen a problem with the on-going use of “fibre optic” terminology in marketing for slower hybrid services and thus most ordinary consumers remain oblivious to the performance differences (this makes life more difficult for true FTTH/P ISPs like Hyperoptic and Gigaclear etc.). However the outcome of Adrian Kennard’s complaint to Virgin Media’s alternative dispute resolution handler, CISAS, may at least provide critics of such promotions with some new ammunition.

Adrian Kennard said:

Recently, Virgin tried to defend their claims of selling fibre optic broadband by referencing an old OFCOM glossary which defined cable, fibre, and ADSL services. Ignoring the “cable” definition they relied on the “fibre” definition as being fibre to the nearest cabinet to the home and then copper from there. They lost that argument as, in my case, the fibre does not go to the nearest cabinet (I have pictures of it), but some cabinet further away (no doubt near to my home, but not nearest).

They have been ordered to apologise to me for mis-selling fibre optic broadband which is clearly not. They have missed the deadline and not apologised in spite of a ruling against them.”

Kennard has since informed ISPreview.co.uk that the ruling is the subject of a confidentiality agreement, which means that for the time being we cannot include any direct extracts. We are currently working to understand the limits of this confidentiality clause, yet for now Kennard’s personal remarks will have to suffice.

The ruling, if expressed accurately, could put Virgin Media into a very difficult position because the operator cannot easily be expected to apologise while also continuing to generally promote the service as a “fibre optic” product. ISPreview.co.uk has already asked Virgin Media to clarify the situation and we are awaiting their comment.

In the meantime it’s worth noting that Kennard’s particular position, with regards to the fibre optic cable not going to his nearest street cabinet, might not work for all of Virgin Media’s customers. In some areas the fibre will go to the customer’s nearest cabinet, while in other locations the situation may be different. We suspect that Virgin Media’s marketing department might have trouble ironing this one out, assuming they’re asked to do so.

The silly aspect of this is that Virgin doesn’t need to call their service “fibre optic” in order for it to be successful and continue to best the rival FTTC solutions, indeed merely calling it “cable broadband” might work in their favour from the honesty and branding point of view. But remember, this problem of marketing is by no means unique to Virgin Media, many other ISPs take the same approach.

UPDATE 11:37am

The official reply from Virgin Media, albeit somewhat dancing around Kennard’s ADR ruling, is as follows.

Emma Hutchinson, Virgin Media Spokesperson, told ISPreview.co.uk:

We are immensely proud of our fibre optic network and continue to deliver the superfast broadband speeds we promise, a fact proven time and time again by Ofcom. It is surprising someone running another ISP and a member of many industry groups was not familiar with our broadband before choosing Virgin Media services. The Advertising Standards Authority and the rest of the industry are clear our broadband is fibre optic.”

One thing we can take away from this reaction is that Virgin have no intention of giving up their “fibre optic” claim.

UPDATE 9th October 2014

Cable operator Virgin Media has finally decided to comply with CISAS’s recommendation and apologise to Mr Kennard for its claim to offer a “fibre optic” broadband connection, although the letter is somewhat of a half apology that stealthily shifts the blame back onto the end-user.

Naturally Kennard has already written an updated summary of the recent events and has included this extract from CISAS’s ruling for context: “[CISAS is] therefore satisfied that the company’s documentation is consistent with a FTTP service as its letter is explicit in that fibre optic cables are run to a customer’s property, and its description of the fibre product on its website is wholly inconsistent with the use of copper cabling from the nearest connection point (such as the company’s cabinet).

Interestingly Virgin Media also chose not to agree with CISAS that the customer should be allowed to cancel their contract without Early Termination Charges, which we imagine might have given other customers a way out of their contracts had the recommendation been followed.

virgin_media_half_apology_letter

Leave a Comment
22 Responses
  1. Avatar FibreFred

    Oh yeah I remember this one… also in related news

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-29475570

    Talk about making things even worse !! Cable is faster than fibre? Hardly….

    Faster than FTTC yes, but not FTTH

    When you read on the story gets even worse:-

    “In Ofcom’s nomenclature “cable” means ISP Virgin Media and “fibre” refers to the other big domestic ISPs it samples when drawing up statistics.”

    Errr no it doesn’t

    • Avatar No Clue

      Not often we agree Fred but in this case i think we do. Ofcom were lackadaisical in allowing Virgin and Bt (in the case of FTTC) to allow them to call it “FIBRE” in the first place. All started off with Virgin being allowed to get away with it and so then obviously the competition copied. (which i do not blame them for).

      This is another new hornets nest now because if the the snippet of “They lost that argument as, in my case, the fibre does not go to the nearest cabinet (I have pictures of it), but some cabinet further away (no doubt near to my home, but not nearest).” Has any barring on any serious decision then in my case where i live that will affect both BT and Virgin.

      My “NEAREST” BT cabinet which i am connected to for my phone is the copper cabinet, the (cough) “fibre” cabinet is across the road on a different street and ‘technically’ further away from me.

      Likewise in my actual road there is a ‘small’ virgin cabinet that cabinet is not a “fibre” cabinet as such, its a handoff or distribution point for my street. the actual cabinet with the “fibre” run to it is 2 streets away.

      Personally i say just make every big provider provide details of every customers speed to ofcom, every six months. Let Ofcom them calculate the average speed for each provider and then in ANY advert they are only allowed to say “the average speed of our broadband is xxxMb” it will stop all the UPTO crap that still happens, all the “superfast” nonsense and soooo much more big business, lets squabble for what sounds the best BS way to push our product tosh that is happening.

      Too much of it from all of them, and the reason is because they have been allowed to skate close to the lines of mis-selling.

  2. Avatar Adrian

    Well, I think the real issue here is that Virgin’s marketing department treat the attribute ‘fibre optic’ like saying ‘really fast’ and not as a description of the actual medium used, which it clearly is. As a result they have no trouble with the idea of selling ‘fibre optic broadband’ over coax cable and think that is valid description. All I did was take them at their word, as any customer should be able to, hence an apology was ordered.

    • Avatar DTMark

      There is no implied or actual relationship between the medium used (“fibre-optic”) and the performance.

      Suggestion: all “broadband” is fibre-optic whether FTTH or satellite because fibre-optic is a key component somewhere along the line.

      VM’s “fibre-optic” comes from cabinets, and as I understood it, that makes it fibre-optic (inference: satellite is not); that’s the definition in this country for marketing purposes.

      However no particular performance should be inferred from that claim, in just the same way as BT’s “fibre-optic” VDSL.

      The issue is about definitions, not about Virgin Media, who are simply “gaming” those definitions like everyone else appears to be, and surely, therefore, the issue is with the regulators who permit the use of the words “broadband” and “fibre-optic” to describe almost anything.

      Posted from my “fibre-optic” “superfast” 4G broadband connection.

    • Avatar Adrian

      The “performace” was never at issue – it was the mis-description that was. Virgin’s cable service is pretty good – I have always said that. It is just that it is not “fibre optic”. At best you could call it (as they have when talking to me) a “fibre/copper hybrid”. The fact that the performance would be no different for the service sold does not change the fact that the description is wrong. And in fact, fibre does make a difference: (a) it is easier to upgrade to faster service later, (b) it is less likely to suffer from any RF interference, (c) it is likely to suffer from corroded joints.

  3. Avatar Paul M

    optical fibre is not broadband at all, unless you’re talking about multiple carriers on a DWDM bearer – the optical carrier (light) is a single frequency.

    so fibre optic broadband is clearly a meaningless term and is just marketing bullshit.

    • As I understand it a light beam never has exactly one frequency and that might even be impossible. Granted laser beams can get pretty close, but generally every physical beam of light has a spread of frequencies; whether you use all of those efficiently or not (i.e. spreading data into channels) is another matter.

      But you do make an interesting point, since broadband usually is expected to encompass using a using a wide range of frequencies. In terms of light though, oh the quantum physics..

    • Avatar No Clue

      Oh christ Mark please nooooo…… Some PR genius is sitting there now thinking laser broadband what a great idea, we can ZAP the competition 😀

  4. Avatar GNewton

    Too many users have been brainwashed these days into believing that ‘fibre optic broadband’ is actually that, when clearly it isn’t. In the UK, it usually refers to broadband delivered to the user’s premises via coax cable, or VDSL twisted pair copper.

    Some of the worst offenders in misusing the term ‘fibre optic broadband’ are some counties with the BDUK projects, see for example http://www.superfastessex.org/forbusiness.aspx

  5. Avatar Michael

    In other countries if a company which was publically listed on a stock market made claims which were false – ie this coax connection or copper connection to your premise is called “fibre” – which it patently cannot be then it would probably trigger a class action law suit if enough people objected.

    It is unfathomable how OFCOM, the ASA and major comms providers in the UK can still allow this insane situation to persist.It is looking remarkably like cartel behaviour that has captured the regualtors who are meant to police it.

  6. Avatar adslmax

    Fibre optic should be BANNED in marketing selling. It’s clearly that Virgin Media, BT, Sky isn’t 100% fibre. Fed up with it.

    • Avatar Adrian

      I agree, but obviously where it is 100% fibre then it should be used. There are a load of operators doing fibre to the premises, and even BT have that in some places. I think Virgin are working on it too. How will consumers know the difference if what they now have is called “fibre”. Will we see “true fibre” or “full fibre” like we now see “full HD” on TVs?

  7. Avatar Eye to the left

    So the Spokesperson for Virgin clearly not happy that Adrian found them out also saw fit to question his credibility as someone who works within their industry.

    “It is surprising someone running another ISP and a member of many industry groups was not familiar with our broadband before choosing Virgin Media services.”

    Incredibly assuming the spokesperson was correct is she suggesting that those customers not in the ISP industry can be forgiven for assuming they are getting “fibre” to the premises/nearest location to their home whereas Adrian should have known better.

    Shocking yet typical response from Virgin.

    • Avatar No Clue

      I would not say it was a shocking thing to say, after all the product Adrain sells he buys from BT and that VDSL product Adrian sells and accurately calls VDSL on his website is called “FIBRE” from BT, them being the people he buys the product from in the first place.

  8. Avatar Chris Evans

    They should seriously sort this out; Fibre Optic broadband should only refer to broadband which runs totally over fibre optic technology. Otherwise you could quite rightly say your phone is a fibre optic telephone service because it runs over fibre optic technology after the exchange despite using a copper cable to the System-X/Y platform.

    Also what a lot of people don’t seem to know; Virgin Media’s network is much less fibre optic than the new FTTC products because not every Virgin Media cabinet has a fibre optic cable going into it.

    In my mind the layout and amount of fibre in Virgins network is more comparable to the old ADSL network than FTTC.

    They should do something about it. I’m very surprised they didn’t market old ADSL products as fibre optic – After all it runs over the fibre optic network of the ISP…

    • Avatar Adrian

      Virgin have stated categorically that *all* of their street cabinets have fibre. I have looked at the picture I took. I don’t see it. But that is what they stated to the arbitrator!

  9. Avatar RevK

    http://www.revk.uk/2014/10/adr.html ha more details :-

    Now, lets just read that again, to be clear to the ASA, Virgin’s marketing department, Trading Standards, and anyone else reading this – an independent qualified arbitrator, paid for by Virgin, has stated “[Virgin’s] description of the fibre product on its website is wholly inconsistent with the use of copper cabling from the nearest connection point (such as the company’s cabinet).” Just let that sink in for a moment here.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      “a) The install was not at the agreed time – I had to take an extra half day off work. They said sorry but offered no compensation. (note: A&A make a point of not guaranteeing install dates – Virgin did not).”

      Was that not part of a complaint levelled at yourself by a customer a year or two back, the same complaint you are still ticked off about? Which if i remember rightly when people ordered back then you did give them an install date. Which for the customer concerned was not met by Openreach?

      “b) Their customer service agent told blatant lies and refused to reply to my written complaint by letter. He insisted twisted pair is the same as coax. He insisted there was no ADR. He insisted that they did provide “fibre optic broadband”.”

      That IMO is what you had more of a right to complain about.

      “c) They sell “fibre optic broadband” which is not. They even told me in writing that “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” which makes it clear that the use fibre optic cable to the property (my house).”

      Have you complained about BT who you buy and sell from to customers and them using claims to describe VDSL as for example “Fibre broadband is up to 10 times faster than copper broadband.” and it not being “FIBRE”. Or is it a case of you do not want to upset them as they will just refuse to sell you a product anymore rendering you out of business?

    • Avatar Adrian

      As I say, we don’t guarantee an install date – the ADR case we had was one where that was clear, but, none the less, we met the date the customer asked for with a few days to spare. This is why no breach of contract was agreed in the ruling.

      As for complaining about BT, I have yet to have a BT retail line as a consumer, so not had the chance yet. I feel virgin are a tad more blatent about it though. Where we buy service from BT, and indeed the way we sell it, it is described as FTTC (or in some cases FTTP), and is what it is described as, so no problem.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      “the ADR case we had was one where that was clear, but, none the less, we met the date the customer asked for with a few days to spare. This is why no breach of contract was agreed in the ruling.”

      “A few days to spare” i take it that means BT turned up before the date which was quoted to that customer. Good in most peoples eyes including mine, but a possible inconvenience to some (or just something to moan about for some people). Where as your Virgin date from the blog sounds like it happened on the date they promised but they turned up either a few hours early or late, hence you having only an “extra half day off work”.

      If you are complaining over the install being on the date promised but not at the exact time they quoted, then sorry you have no leg to stand on, the install itself could have over run by them late or early turning by a few hours regardless, the same could be said for any company installing a service. They also have a facility on their web site just like most ISPs to change install dates if you need to at http://tinyurl.com/lgl3dnh

      “As for complaining about BT, I have yet to have a BT retail line as a consumer”

      Does not come into it you buy and sell BT products to customers.

      “I feel virgin are a tad more blatent about it though. Where we buy service from BT, and indeed the way we sell it, it is described as FTTC (or in some cases FTTP), and is what it is described as, so no problem.”

      As i say FTTC is being mis-sold to yourselves or at the best misleading with various nonsense claims for FTTC such as ““Fibre broadband is up to 10 times faster than copper broadband.”” That claim is made by BT WHOLESALE (who i imagine you buy from) and im pretty sure openreach also.
      1) FTTC is still copper and…
      2) Its not UPTO 10 times faster, i imagine they calculate that by taking the old ADSL MAX product figure of 8Mb and multiplying it by 10 to get 80Mb…
      Only problem with that is NOBODY gets a full 80Mb. Actual rate is capped just below 80Mb as the max, nobody will EVER see 80Mb as their line profile via the BT checker cos it does not go that high, it goes at something like 79995kb (79.9Mb) as the max. BT RETAIL have already been taken to task when they were using similar claims about “xxx times faster” in their advertising. BT Wholesale continue to use such claims on their website.

      You I WOULD GUESS are also technically mis-selling according to the ASA as your FTTC product is still advertised as UPTO 80Mb on your website, unless 10% of your customer base is getting 80Mb (which as explained is impossible as nobody will get that set as a profile) you can not be selling it as that. NOBODY advertising or explanation of a product is perfect even yours which you have taken FAR more time over than many companies as ive just highlighted. (Your explanations of what FTTC/VDSL is though is obviously a million times better than certain organisations).

      I can appreciate you are frustrated with the ADR scheme but hoping things are going to change by making superfluous complaints (or that is the way i read your blog update) is not going to change things. I could sit here going through ISP after ISP and filing complaints about all of them left right and centre over nitty gritty detail, i do not though because its simply a waste of time.

      If you were that p!$$ed over Virgin not being a “fibre” cable, imagine what near 3 million feel like that have been duped by FTTC (sorry “Fibre is HERE”).

      BT advertising FTTC as being “fibre”, but not only that but then a fair chunk of them getting something significantly slower than the “UPTO” 76Mb figures that are waved in their face.

      Im assuming your Virgin service actually met its speed claims or at the least got a hell of a lot closer than some of the UPTO 80Mb VDSL BT based stuff you are selling, in that case why would you give a crap what cable is used, if its meeting what speed you were quoted? Joe bloggs would not give a damn as long as their internet is as fast as they were promised.

    • Avatar Adrian

      Slightly confused by some of your comments. I agree that BT do have adverts selling “fibre” broadband to consumers, and as I say I have not had a chance to complain over that as not a consumer for a BT service.

      However, BT are not mis-selling products to us (A&A). What we buy is as described in the BT SINs, fibre to the cabinet, and at speeds that are estimated on a per line basis. Indeed, any line syncing below estimated speed at install can be rejected. It is copper from the cabinet. BT don’t mis-sell that to us, and we don’t mis-sell that to customers. BT do also have fibre to the premises services and fibre ethernet services.

      You also do not find us selling “up to 80Mb” (please quote a page saying that, and it will be corrected). We explain what we sell, and we quote a speed for a line. The ASA stuff on “up to” usage is mental, in my opionion, which is why we avoid it. Almost as mental as allowing “fibre optic broadband” in marketing when no actually fibre optic.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      Example of BT wholesale and 10x faster and 80Mb claims for FTTC…
      https://www.btwholesale.com/pages/static/Products/Broadband/Fibre_to_the_Cabinet/index.htm

      That is what you buy is it not, and then sell on?
      1) That 10x faster and 80Mb claim from a company you buy from (IE NO different to Virgin is a false claims).

      2) Why are you happy to buy a product and sell it that is falsely advertised? You are unhappy with Virgin making false claims, that as you admit is part of you CISAs complaint (IE they claim its fibre and it is not) Why are you happy to buy a BT product that makes statements about speed and then also sell it when the claims are false???

      3) Not even BT Retail, who is wholesales biggest customer dub their product 80Mb anymore they dub it 76Mb.

      Example of AAISP claiming in MULTI instances 80Mb…
      http://www.aa.net.uk/broadband-office1.html (NOTE THERE are more pages on your site claiming 80Mb)
      1) You can not claim that figure unless 10% of your customer base gets it, as ruled by the ASA
      2) You can not sell it as 80Mb because despite the claims that it is capped at 80Mb its actually a max profile of something like 79995kb (79.9Mb) as pointed out. NOBODY gets a REAL 80Mb speed. From you or any FTTC service and anyone that wants to try to claim different feel free to show me any image of an FTTC service delivering a throughput of 80Mb which is what the ASA calls for.

      You are thus no different to Virgin in selling something and claiming things about your product which are technically speaking false.

      http://www.thinkbroadband.com/news/4802-asa-publishes-speed-claim-guidelines-for-broadband-adverts.html
      PLEASE NOTE.. (important word in this is capitalised)

      “Any marketing material must now only make a headline speed claim that at least 10% of customers can ACHIEVE”

      Thats ACHIEVE not sync at. IE what a customer can physically get from a connection.

      Can 10% of your VDSL/FTTC users ACHIEVE 80Mb? Id like to see that, Id also doubt that 10% can get the full 20Mb speed.

      Fibs about any product are wrong, calling someone out on them is a bit silly if you are not only selling but buying from another organisation that shall we say more than stretch the truth about products.

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