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UPDATE2 CISAS Advises Virgin Media to Apologise for Fibre Optic Claim

Monday, October 6th, 2014 (9:55 am) - Score 4,608

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

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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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