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UPDATE ASA UK Allow BT to Describe FTTC as “Fibre Optic” Broadband

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 (7:59 am) - Score 1,987
fibre optic cables eclipse

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has once again ruled that it’s perfectly fine for ISPs to describe hybrid-fibre broadband connections, such as those based off BT’s ‘up to’ 80Mbps capable Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology, to describe such services as “fibre optic” even though they can also involve a significant amount of slower copper cable.

The issue of whether or not hybrid-fibre (FTTC, Cable DOCSIS etc.) broadband services, which can be significantly slower than true fibre optic (FTTP/H) connections that are able to deliver Gigabit speeds, can also be described as “fibre optic” is by no means a new one to these pages.

In fact the ASA has previously ruled on a similar case against Virgin Media and found in favour of the ISP and not too long ago we also ran an editorial to help explain some of the issues – Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up. So it’s with no significant shock that we read the ASA has now rejected a similar complaint against an advert for the FTTC based BTInfinity product.

In short, two people complained to the ASA that a poster and website advert for the BTInfinity packages were “misleading” because in both the service was described as “fibre optic“. Crucially the complainants noted that the packages were based off FTTC and not FTTP technology, although BT does offer true fibre optic FTTP options under the less visible but faster BTInfinity 3 and 4 options (only a tiny minority can access those).

BT responded to point out that its own FTTP service was available to 144,000 premises or a footprint of about 0.7% on BTOpenreach’s “fibre broadband” network (i.e. FTTC and FTTP, with FTTC currently holding around 21 million premises). BT considered that the “lack of presence and profile of FTTP broadband meant it was extremely unlikely that consumers would expect that a service promoted as “fibre optic” was FTTP“.

As expected, the ASA ultimately ruled in BT’s favour with the following reasoning, which due to the gravity of this debate we’ll paste in full.

ASA Ruling (Ref: A14-263509)

The ASA understood that almost all of BT Openreach’s fibre optic network, which was used by BT as well as most other broadband providers, comprised fibre optic cable from the telephone exchange to the street cabinet, and copper cable from the cabinet to customers’ homes. Such connections were known as fibre-to-the-cabinet, or ‘FTTC’ broadband. Signals sent over copper cables were much slower, and the overall speeds achievable by FTTC broadband connections were therefore affected by the length and quality of copper cabling used. A very small proportion of the fibre optic network used by BT comprised fibre optic cable all the way into consumers’ homes (fibre-to-the-premises/property, or ‘FTTP’ broadband). FTTP broadband could deliver significantly faster connection speeds than FTTC broadband because the connections did not use any copper cable. We understood that BT’s “Infinity” branded broadband products, which were referred to as “fibre optic” in the ads and which delivered speeds of a minimum of “Up to 38Mb”, were generally supplied through FTTC connections, although they also included connections supplied via FTTP.

According to Ofcom research figures published in August 2014 almost 100% of UK premises had access to standard ‘ADSL’ broadband, which was delivered through copper telephone cables only. ‘Superfast’ broadband (which typically used FTTC, FTTP or Virgin Media’s cable network of fibre optic and co-axial cable) was available to 78% of premises in the UK. However, we understood from Ofcom’s figures that although take-up of superfast broadband connections had increased year-on-year, only 26.7% of broadband connections were superfast. We understood Ofcom did not have figures available as to the relative composition of FTTP compared to FTTC, either in terms of availability or actual take-up by consumers. We noted BT’s estimate that FTTP availability probably accounted for only 1.5% of total fibre optic broadband availability.

Ofcom research from 2013 showed that consumers who had upgraded to a superfast connection most often cited value for money, speed of downloads, faster speeds compared to their previous service, and good simultaneous performance on different devices as reasons for upgrading. We noted that in 2013 the majority of consumers had access to superfast broadband of at least one type, but the majority of those with broadband connections instead continued to use ADSL connections. We therefore understood that the primary market for companies such as BT which supplied superfast broadband was consumers who continued to use ADSL broadband. We therefore considered that most consumers who responded to ads (a) and (b) were likely to be interested in switching from ADSL to superfast connections.

In that context we considered that consumers who might be interested in “fibre optic” broadband of one sort or another would primarily be concerned with the improved speed and performance which could be delivered in comparison to an ADSL connection, and the cost at which that service could be obtained, rather than being concerned with obtaining the most technologically advanced fibre optic product available at any cost.

We therefore considered the use of the term “fibre optic” to denote a broadband connection which primarily comprised fibre optic cable whilst including non-fibre optic cable as a small proportion of the overall connection was unlikely to mislead the average consumer. We concluded the ads did not breach the Code.

Make of that what you will. But it’s interesting to note that in some areas a street cabinet can be very close to its primary telephone exchange, which might mean the copper cable to some premises may actually be longer than the fibre optic from the cabinet to exchange. In those situations would the ASA’s conclusion still apply? Perhaps that’s one for somebody to complain about in the future.

UPDATE 12:56pm

Naturally Hyperoptic, which is rolling out a true fibre optic broadband network across 12 UK cities, has been quick to chime in with a comment.

Boris Ivanovic, Chairman of Hyperoptic, said:

ASA’s ruling that BT can advertise its Fibre-to-the-Cabinet product as ‘fibre optic’ is going to compound consumer confusion. Advertising its product as ‘fibre’ is deeply misleading, as BT’s true fibre product is only available through 0.7% of its network.

There is a fundamental difference between Fibre-to-the-Cabinet and ‘fibre’ broadband – Fibre-to-the-Cabinet broadband is still delivered over copper, which is why the service is unreliable, distance-dependent and subject to peak-time slowdowns. With true Fibre-to-the-Home broadband, speeds are faster, symmetric and reliable. The products and consumer experiences are completely different. ASA’s presumption that people looking for high-speed services are knowledgeable enough to know the difference is inaccurate – after all, BT’s advertising does not mention the speeds, it just focuses on the product being ‘superfast fibre optic broadband.’

Allowing this confusion to continue is also anti-competitive and detrimental to the providers that are offering Fibre-to-the-Home broadband services. There are a number of providers, including Hyperoptic, who are now offering true fibre services – differentiating the product and educating consumers is nigh-impossible when the industry monopoly is allowed to confuse the market.”

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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52 Responses
  1. Its all part of the superfarce, and until we get regulators with guts the farce will continue. It is not fibre broadband unless its fibre to the home. End of. Dial up is fed from the same place, with the same amount of fibre. BT and ASA are actually saying dial up is fibre broadband.

    • Avatar GNewton

      Many of the county BDUK projects have joined the bandwagon of misleading the consumers claiming to do ‘fibre’ when clearly it isn’t. Essex county council is a prime example for this, see e.g. http://www.superfastessex.org/en-gb/forbusiness.aspx

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Chris
      I don’t believe you get to redefine what has already been determined by the industry through the ITU, a UN body. Just because you have a personal preference for FTTP doesn’t mean that other variants of fibre broadband such as FTTN, FTTB and FTTC are not valid. If you want to be pedantic, don’t call what B4RN offer fibre broadband, call it fibre to the premises and then there is no confusion.

      Most people frankly don’t care, are more interested in whether the service meets their needs than how it is delivered, which is as it should be.

    • Avatar X66yh

      But @NewLondoner that is not the point.
      The ASA should be there to ensure that the product or service is correctly described.
      Whether or not the majority of people can purchase it, can afford to purchase it, or indeed care about it should not be a relevant factor.

      Most people cannot afford an expensive sport car, nor do they want one, not do they care about them in many cases. That does not mean than a run of the mill family car can be mis-described as a “Sport Car” capable of 180mph.

  2. Avatar adslmax

    Pathetic. :/

  3. Avatar Patrick Cosgrove

    If I receive a parcel that travelled 100 miles to the nearest station, then five miles by van, was it delivered to me by rail or by road?

    • Avatar GNewton

      Clearly it will be delivered to you by rail (according to ASA) 🙂

      Seriously, I wonder whether there is a legal appeal procedure to overturn this ASA ruling?

    • Spot on Patrick! You hit the nail on the head. If your parcel traveled more than 600 metres away from the train depo it probably wouldn’t arrive either. But you would be told it had and charged for it too.

    • Avatar GNewton

      @X66yh: Does ASA or this Independent Review process also cover complaints against county council’s BDUK projects like superfastessex.org which misleadingly talks about ‘fibre broadband’ when it actually isn’t?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Patrick,

      Why would you care, your concern is price, speed of delivery, no damage etc etc, why would you care what portion of the transport was rail or road.

      Would you care what colour the van was, male or female delivery person, what they had for breakfast?

    • Avatar Raindrops

      If one of his concerns is “speed of delivery” then obviously he wants to know to an HONEST degree how his parcel will arrive, as the mode of transport will dictate the speed it is likely to arrive.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Laughable

      Yes when you book a courier its always worth checking first just to see how much air,rail,road, foot travel is involved

      Its just a given you’d do that…(.)

    • Avatar Raindrops

      Clearly you have never ordered anything from overseas where the shipping method and the courier, along with the mode of transportation dictates in part how long a delivery will take. Something halfway round the world will normally arrive quicker by Air than it will by Sea as an example.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Keep on trolling…

    • Avatar Raindrops

      Yes cos pointing out you have nothing that is common sense to say of course equates to trolling.

  4. Avatar X66yh

    I wonder if the ruling would be any different if the complainant was in location served by say either Hyperoptic or Gigaclear where they could say that indeed they did have access to both technologies, a significant number of people locally were using them -and hence the FTTC/fibre adverts were unfair.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      An unlikely scenario. Don’t forget Hyperoptic often uses copper cabling to connect from the basement to an apartment, so cannot claim to be a “pure” FTTP service either, and Gigaclear doesn’t tend to offer service where there is any fibre broadband competition.

    • Avatar No Clue

      Wrong again as usual FTTB terminates before the building on on the OUTSIDE of the building, NOT INSIDE IT.

      FTTP terminates INSIDE the building. What is used within the building to then distribute is irrelevant, using your (cough, choke) logic BTs FTTP is not FTTP either as the cables to the users devices (IE what distributes the broadband around the home) is copper also.

      FTTP simply means it goes INSIDE the property, what room it goes to be it a basement or not is INSIDE the premises.

      Id like to see an idiot like you complain to the ASA that a FTTP product from a company which is capable of 1Gbps is not FTTP and that BTs crap 330Mbps is.

      BTs FTTC service technically speaking is not even FTTC its FTTN, There are plenty of so called BT FTTC connections that have more than 300M of copper in them.
      http://postimg.org/image/prbc0e7rd/

      Please get a clue rather than a BT brown tongue.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      @Clueless
      This really isn’t your day is it!

      You seem to have forgotten that Hyperoptic is delivering FTTB to apartment blocks, so the relevant “premise” is the apartment, not the basement of the building. Alternatively, if you now claim it’s okay to terminate outside of the premise and deliver the final drop via copper then you are surely happy with FTTC too, as the only topological difference is the length of copper.

      In reality both are fibre broadband, fit in with the ITU definitions, so it really isn’t a problem except for the pseudo experts that want to make up their own definitions to suit their personal agendas.

    • Avatar No Clue

      “So Hyperoptic terminate outside the building/premises? Unlikely.

      http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2014/11/interview-hyperoptic-talks-uk-fibre-optic-broadband-coverage-tv-uptake.html

      Exactly they terminate inside the building making it FTTP just as i stated.

    • Avatar No Clue

      “You seem to have forgotten that Hyperoptic is delivering FTTB to apartment blocks, so the relevant “premise” is the apartment, not the basement of the building.”

      LMAO, and i spose if fibre is terminated in your living room thats FTTLR is it?

      Hyperoptic is FTTP, they say so recent news here says so, wikipedia says so, the only person that doesnt is you.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      FTTB in the UK and Europe stands for Fibre to the BUILDING, fibre cable is typically terminated at the building.

      FTTC/FFTN is typically terminated at a cabinet or node

      FTTP/FTTH is terminated in a premise/home…. Spot a pattern???

      Im not sure where basements come into things, nobody is interested in where he is locked up half the day.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Is FTTB in the building or outside it? If the building is single occupancy then it’s a premises?

      FTTP and FTTB seem to be interchangable. And then there is FTTH…

    • Avatar Raindrops

      FTTB = Terminated on the premises for the purpose of carrying communications.

      FTTH/P = Terminated on or in the premise for the purpose of carrying communications (IN PREMISES WOULD BE A BASEMENT, A BASEMENT IS PART OF THE PREMISES).
      To be classified as FTTH, the access fibre must cross the subscriber’s
      premises boundary and terminate.

      Not hard to comprehend. Hyperoptic terminates and crosses to the INSIDE OF THE PREMISES. It is thus FTTH/P.

      If you want to argue the last bit of cabling is copper and thus it is not FTTP/H then neither is BTs product.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      ^

      You could have at least checked their website

      ” Q: What kind of fibre network do you use?

      A: We install a Fibre-To-The-Building (FTTB) network. This means we run fibre optics all the way to the basement of your property, instead of a cabinet at the end of your street. Within the building we use Ethernet cabling or fibre depending on its characteristics, both offer the same throughput at this usage. In your premise you will be presented with a single Ethernet port.”

      https://www.hyperoptic.com/web/guest/faq

      Priceless once again 🙂

      No doubt you’ll try to put a different slant on that but it will still say on their own website FTTB

    • Avatar Raindrops

      Like you they appear to have used the wrong terminology… What i have mentioned above is the definition given by the FTTH Council. Any FTTx product where fibre enters the property is normally FTTH/P. FTTB no matter what you think and what they have painstakingly written terminates at the building or at the very best an exterior wall (inside or out).

      Just because BT call their product FTTC doesn’t mean it is, as pointed out by No Clue their product is technically FTTN. I guess the difference is BT over exaggerate and Hyperoptic have under hyped their product. Both technically described wrongly regardless.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Successful technical Telco hyperoptic vs proven to be wrong on multiple occasions internet troll , hmmm it’s a tough one 😉

    • Avatar No Clue

      The only tough thing here is your mental block.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Regardless of your posting ID the one thing that is a constant if you’ll always put your foot in your mouth and look like a fool, you’ve been doing it for years and will no doubt continue to

      The fact that you now argue that the company you are discussing is wrong and you are right is one of your more priceless moments

      Well done! 🙂

    • Avatar No Clue

      Try reading the statement from Hyperoptic.

  5. “‘ADSL’ broadband, which was delivered through copper telephone cables only.”

    With statements like that, is it any wonder those muppets come up with rulings like this one? 🙂

    “We therefore considered the use of the term “fibre optic” to denote a broadband connection which primarily comprised fibre optic cable whilst including non-fibre optic cable as a small proportion of the overall connection was unlikely to mislead the average consumer.”

    That might well be a fair point – be interesting to see what they made of a Fixed Wireless Access operator who’s nodes are fed by fibre? 🙂

  6. Avatar dragoneast

    It’s the mess you end up with when the ad execs and the lawyers get together to decide what “the public” i.e. everyone else, understand, or not. But hey, that’s always been the way in the good ole UK’s version of democracy. “They” know best.

  7. Avatar Col

    I live 500m from my exchange and use ADSL2 so is it fair to say I’m getting “fibre optic”? FTTE.

    • Avatar James Harrison

      This is in fact the original basis of my complaint to the ASA on this matter – I said they should be forced to advertise all of their products as fibre broadband, or only FTTP, as their services were all FTTE or closer, which means the bulk of the network is fibre optic!

      The ASA chose to largely ignore that, however, and focus on the use of the term relating to misleading of consumers. Their argument is effectively that they’ve been misleading people for so long, the language has changed and they can go on misleading people. Which is clearly bullshit.

  8. Avatar gerarda

    I look forward to Warburton’s Half and Half bread being advertised as Wholemeal

  9. Avatar finaldest

    I guess the ASA will continue to ban adverts due to trivial reasons yet its OK to advertise a non fibre based product as fibre optic.

    So coax and twisted pair is now fibre according to the ASA.

    BRILLIANT!!!!!!!

  10. Avatar Con Bradley

    Wrong, wrong and thrice wrong. It seems that following this logic that I have fibre optic already as most of the connection is fibre., Bristol to London.

  11. Avatar Con Bradley

    By the same logic I can drive from Bristol to Paris by road as the sea crossing is less than 10% of the journey so can be ignored. Why do we put up with this patent nonsense.

  12. Avatar FibreFred

    ” Dial up is fed from the same place, with the same amount of fibre”

    So when taking a dial-up service there is the same amount of fibre between the exchange and the home as there is with FTTC?

    Really?

    I know the debate will never go away but if they’ve let it go for Virgin they have to for BT (and others)

    It won’t “compound consumer confusion” at all because most consumers don’t give a fig about the physical medium they care about the speed/service.

    Two people complained, if there was mass confusion we’d have mass complaints, as it stands there aren’t any.

    Anyway… waste your breath and fingers, its been through the ASA twice, nothing will change, its a FTTX product… which surprisingly actually uses fibre!

  13. Avatar No Clue

    “So when taking a dial-up service there is the same amount of fibre between the exchange and the home as there is with FTTC?”

    No sure what you are on about as usual…
    If you take dial up in an street/house where you could choose FTTC then yes obviously the same amount of fibre is there, its just your dialup service would be delivered over copper in its entirety, that makes no difference to the “amount” of fibre available between a persons home and exchange though.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Doesn’t surprise me that you cannot follow a basic sentence, it was in response to Chris’s statement so I’m expecting a reply from Chris, not from you, you are simply trolling as usual.

      On your way 🙂

    • Avatar Raindrops

      “So when taking a dial-up service there is the same amount of fibre between the exchange and the home as there is with FTTC?”

      Erm the service someone has makes no difference to the amount of fibre cable between their home and the exchange. They just would not be using it.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      We are clearly discussing what a service uses.

    • Avatar Raindrops

      Clearly not as the statement was “So when taking a dial-up service there is the SAME AMOUNT OF FIBRE BETWEEN THE EXCHANGE AND THE HOME as there is with FTTC?”

      and no matter the product a user has that does not alter the AMOUNT OF CABLING be it copper of Fibre which is BETWEEN THE EXCHANGE AND THE HOME.

      As to the “WE” who is the “WE” you have not even been involved in this conversation, or rather you have but used another name again to agree with yourself again

    • Avatar TheFacts

      Dial up uses the copper between the premises and the local exchange.

      FTTC uses the copper to the cabinet and then fibre which could take a completely different route to another exchange.

    • Avatar No Clue

      “Dial up uses the copper between the premises and the local exchange.

      FTTC uses the copper to the cabinet and then fibre which could take a completely different route to another exchange.”

      And none of that alters the AMOUNT of fibre BETWEEN a home and exchange. I doubt the capitals will help though Raindrops did not.

      If you own a push bike instead of a car that does not alter the amount of roads between you and your destination either. NO MATTER what route you take.

  14. Avatar MikeW

    Shakespeare had this one covered 400 years ago:

    What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
    By any other name would smell as sweet.

    Changing the name wouldn’t cause BT (or Virgin) to deploy something different. It wouldn’t change the choices made by politicians for BDUK. It wouldn’t change the choices made by consumers

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      Yup, you have it right. Basically ASA painted themselves into a corner over allowing VM to describe their offering as fibre. I doubt (mostly) that the general public have the foggiest notion over the difference between DOCSIS over cable and VDLS2 over copper pair. They are just going to buy on price and whether they get a reliable service that meets their needs. Other than that, fibre will just be yet another devalued marketing term which they will treat with appropriate suspicion.

      Of course, a great annoyance to those offering fibre where it really makes a difference to people’s lives, but such is life.

      nb. it will be interesting to see what happens with the York CityFibre experiment. Then there will be two very influential operators, TalkTalk and Sky who most certainly will want to differentiate their product from FTTC (and VM’s hybrid cable service). Either they will have to come up with a new line (true fibre maybe?) or start shouting at the ASA.

  15. Avatar col

    Can ISP’s not just sell their products without using any mention of Fibre ,copper or a piece of string.

    It should be:
    Broadband up to 16
    Broadband up to 38
    Broadband up to 80
    And hopefully..’and so on’

  16. Avatar Chris C

    This reminds me of the all the old unlimited rulings.

    When it was only the niche isp’s not shaping traffic, the ASA was ruling that throttling traffic was fine and dandy, but the moment the big players changed their policies suddenly the ASA decided that any throttling can only be moderate and FUP’s breach.

    It is actually kind of surprising the ASA have openly admitted this is how they work,l note their comment that because only a tiny part of openreach’s network is true FTTP they consider it not misleading. So basically when BT decide to expand its FTTP to a large % of customers the ASA will change their tune, its nailed on. This I have a problem with. (a) consumers until that time will be brainwashed into thinking they have a legit fibre connection and then overnight it changes, (b) this is unfair on the small true FTTP providers trying to make a go of it in some parts of the country.
    It does seem the ASA feel these small isp’s dont matter and they just playing a game of “majority wins”.

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