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France Rules Against Misuse of “Fibre Optic Broadband” in ISP Adverts

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 (9:48 am) - Score 1,617
fibre optic broadband cables

The debate over whether or not broadband ISPs that don’t sell a pure “fibre optic” (FTTH/P) broadband connection should be allowed to use such terminology in their adverts is nothing new, but a new ruling by the Government of France shows that some countries are taking a stand.

The situation is already well explained in our 2013 article on the subject (Will the Real Fibre Optic Broadband Service Please Stand Up), but it boils down to the fact that most of the superfast broadband services offered over Openreach’s (BT) and Virgin Media’s national networks do not actually take the fibre optic cable all the way to your home or office.

Instead the most dominant methods of connectivity, such as ‘up to’ 80Mbps Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) or VM’s 152Mbps Cable DOCSIS, are perhaps better described as hybrid fibre solutions that also mix in a good amount of coax and or copper telecoms cable.

Sadly the use of non-fibre often has a big impact on performance; although this varies depending upon how much non-fibre is deployed (length) and what connection technology is being used. By comparison a pure fibre optic network (Fibre-to-the-Home / Premises) can technically deliver Gigabit (1000Mbps+) speeds to anywhere the cable ends.

The problem is that in the United Kingdom there’s little to no distinction between FTTC, Cable or FTTH/P in advertising, with many related ISPs using terms like “fibre broadband” or “fibre optic” as they see fit. Meanwhile the Advertising Standards Authority ruled a long time ago that this was to be considered an accepted practice.

Should only FTTH/P ISPs be allowed to advertise as "fibre optic" or "fibre broadband"?

  • Yes (76%, 110 Votes)
  • No (21%, 31 Votes)
  • Undecided (3%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 145

But the story in other countries is not always the same and it’s notable that a new ruling by the Government of France, which is a country that suffers from some of the same marketing confusion as the UK, has sought to change how such services are promoted (here).

Broadly speaking the ruling states that ISPs who don’t offer a pure fibre optic connection, where the optical cable runs right into your house or apartment, must add an asterisk (*) wherever “fibre” (or “fiber” if you’re French) is mentioned and describe the connection in more detail. The closest translation we could find for the rule is as follows.

France’s Rule for “Fibre Optic” Advertising

Any advertising message or commercial document of a supplier of services … must, if it associates the term “fiber” to the services of the supplier, whereas the connection of the end customer is not realized in optical fiber, include a notation specifying the physical media of the final connection, starting with the words : ‘final connection in..’

One problem with this is that the French rule actually came about because of a dispute between several pure fibre offering ISPs (e.g. Orange and Free) and a Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) provider, Numericable-SFR. In reality FTTB providers can often also deliver Gigabit services and so the difference isn’t usually as wide as it is between FTTC and FTTH/P.

Many FTTB solutions bring the fibre optic cable to a building, such as a big apartment block, but then deliver the final service into homes or specific offices by using the buildings existing copper or coax infrastructure. Often this is only a fairly short run of non-fibre cable, but it seems in France that’s enough to make all the difference.

Suffice to say that Numericable-SFR is displeased, “In modernized areas such as Paris, the difference between an FTTB and FTTH network represents ten meters of optical fiber, more or less, and this is roughly the distance between a cellar and the second floor of the building!” Meanwhile the UK’s advertising watchdog doesn’t seem to care, despite the fact that FTTC solutions can run on copper that extends to around 2,000 metres (2 kms) and at that range you’ll be into slow ADSL2+ style territory.

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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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9 Responses
  1. Avatar cyclope

    But will ASA listen to the people ?

    • Avatar Steve Jones

      The problem is that the ASA approved the practice a long time ago. It takes rather a lot for organisations like that to admit they made a mistake. There was a perfectly good term, fibre to the cabinet, that could have been used as a generic, but unfortunately that’s been co-opted by VDSL broadband.

      In any event, it’s probably something that primarily annoys the purists. I doubt many people worry to much about the technical niceties. Although I note that VM are making a big thing about their delivery being over DOCSIS over in some recent TV advertising, so possibly they’ll move the emphasis to that, not fibre. BT can no doubt start countering with dedicated loop rather than shared coax.

    • Avatar GNewton

      “But will ASA listen to the people ?”

      No, the laws of physics are different in the UK where fibre comes through copper 🙂

      People here have been so much brainwashed that those pointing out the obvious truth are now called ‘purists’. The difference between VDSL broadband and fibre broadband will become more known once genuine fibre services become more widespread.

      The telecom industry, especially BT, has a long history of spreading lies, going back to the days of dial-up internet which used to be marketed by BT as free internet even though they charged customer on a per-minute basis. Then there is the long story of unlimited broadband internet usage when in fact there were hidden fair-usage clauses with most ISPs. Not to forget recent NAO reports uncovering some inconsistencies with the monies wasted on the BDUK projects. And nowadays people believe that there are free or nearly free broadband offers, or BT Sports, when in reality is subsidised by other income streams, e.g. ever increasing line rentals.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      BT BT BT

      It started with Virgin GNewton/JNeuhoff, but you are so hell bent on your BT bashing campaign you forget/ignore etc as it doesn’t meet your needs.

      Bottom line is… most people don’t care what its called.

      Interview 100 people in the street and you’ll get over 90 that just don’t care what its called.

  2. Avatar CopperFred

    But those 90 will believe that they have fibre broadband. They will be even more confused when they can have true fibre to the home. What will the marketeers call that?

    • Avatar FibreFred

      What they call it now “fibre broadband”

      Fttc and Fttp is already available as “fibre broadband” just different speeds which is what most customers are interested in

      I don’t agree or disagree with the term I’m in the don’t care camp

    • Avatar GNewton

      You are talking to someone who calls names on other users, or accuses them to be off multiple personalities. The truth can be painful to some: ‘Fibre Broadband’ in most cases isn’t what it’s supposed to be in the UK, 2 wrongs (ASA and the telecoms) don’t make it right. The lie started with Virgin, then BT and the ASA. The whole telecoms industry in the UK is in a mess, just see the BDUK farce!

  3. Avatar MikeW

    Marketers will always seek to distinguish their product. To make it appear better without further brain power or explanation.

    VM sought this advantage by calling their broadband “fibre optic” in 2008. It is “just better” with no explanation necessary … and that is the source of the current confusion, no less.

    It would have been better had they called it (like Australia) “hybrid fibre coax”, and even better if ASA enforced that. BT are merely following suit … and doing so in a sensible manner. Why would BT marketers deliberately choose to make their products sound worse than VM’s?

    VM continue to take this approach with their strap line of “always faster”, as though speed alone is a good enough discriminator (it isn’t to me). The marketers think the public are buying it, now that BT can match their use of “fibre optic”.

    VM’s latest adverts use DOCSIS as their USP, as though that alone implies greatness. Those who suffer congestion over the shared DOCSIS medium will beg to differ, but their marketers now seem to think that baffling the public is a winner.

    The simple fact is that marketers don’t think about the long-term confusion they cause to the public. They only care that they appear better in *this* campaign. That the campaign creates more sales.

    Right now, this means that VM are starting to take advantage of the “ultrafast” label before BT can do so. Expect ASA complaints here next. BT’s best possible response is one of QoS, but that is never an easy sell.

    Next will come the battle over true fibre.

    Could things be fixed? I’m not convinced that banning the term “fibre optic” from FTTC and HFC products will now reduce confusion. The public has had 7 years to become used to the term referring to this generation of broadband products, so know both what to order, and what to expect. Changing use will only now cause confusion, not take it away.

    IMO, true fibre needs to invent its own marketable term, and concentrate on pushing (and protecting) that term, rather than whinging about past history.

    And, of course, a bad marketing label doesn’t put the entire telecoms industry in a mess. Believing that, or that politicians and BDUK have been fooled by it, is just naive.

  4. Avatar Chris P

    Did something official change to make VM stop using the term fibre and start using DOCSIS?
    When FTTP happens, it should just be called “Fibre” & ASA should launch a TV campaign to explain the differences, as its their fault they let VM use the term when in fact they where delivering Fibre To A (not necessarily the closest to your home) Cabinet (FTAC) with coax to the home. VM will now have free advertising when others start FTTP as the public associate Fibre with VM.

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