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France Adds Law to STOP Abuse of “Fibre Optic Broadband” in ISP Adverts

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016 (9:12 am) - Score 2,173

The French government has now officially introduced a new decree that makes it much more difficult for broadband ISPs to advertise their services using “fibre optic” terminology if the network doesn’t actually deliver a fibre cable to your home. If only the UK would follow suit.

We’ve covered the long running debate over the differences between hybrid-fibre (e.g. Cable DOCSIS / FTTC) and pure fibre optic (e.g. FTTH/P) connections on several occasions (primary example here), so this time around we can probably cut to the chase a little sooner.

Broadly speaking it boils down to the fact that most of the “superfast broadband” services being 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 (the last few metres or miles is usually done via existing copper lines) and thus deliver slower speeds than if they did. Virgin in particular are now well known for comically promoting “fibre optic” alongside pictures of copper coax cables (here).

In the early days of hybrid-fibre broadband services the confusion didn’t matter so much because pure fibre optic ISPs, such as Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH/P) based operators like Hyperoptic, Cityfibre, Gigaclear, B4RN and IFNL that offer 1000Mbps+ connections (plus even BT + Virgin Media in some areas) had virtually zero availability.

As such the Advertising Standards Authority ruled a long time ago that hybrid-fibre broadband products could be promoted as “fibre optic” or “fibre broadband” (this is why we tend to put FTTC “fibre broadband” in speech marks or refer to it as hybrid fibre), which flows from an old February 2008 ruling that found in Virgin Media’s favour.

At the time the ASA took the view that the copper coax element of Virgin’s network was only a small part of their fibre optic fed network and thus the ISP was deemed to have been justified in describing their service as “fibre optic“, even though this sort of promotional flexibility could in theory also be applied to everything from ADSL2+ to wireless networks and sometimes it has.

But today such FTTH/P services pass well over 400,000 UK premises and this could increase several fold over the next few years to 1-3 million, thus the distinction is becoming more important as those providers who do offer a pure FTTH/P connection will want to distinguish their more advanced and stable products from the less capable hybrid-fibre solutions.

Last year saw the French government move to tackle this concern by proposing a new change / decree (here) that would effectively force any ISP using the term “fibre” (or “fiber” if you prefer) to clearly clarify in its advertising if the cable that reached a customer’s property was optical fibre or not. This week, after a long battle between ISPs, it was confirmed that the decree would finally come into force on 1st June 2016 (French Article).

In fairness the situation in France is arguably less significant than the UK because the argument stems from a dispute between several FTTH/P offering ISPs (‘Orange’ and ‘Free’) and a Fibre-to-the-Building (FTTB) provider (Numericable-SFR). However 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 in the UK.

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 building’s existing copper / coax cable 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.

Meanwhile the UK’s advertising watchdog doesn’t seem to care, despite the fact that FTTC (VDSL) solutions can run on copper that extends up to around 2,000 metres (2 kms) and at that range you’ll be into snail’s pace ADSL speeds territory.

Elsewhere the big ISPs often argue, perhaps fairly (up to a point), that most consumers don’t much care about the underlying technical definitions. On the other hand a snap poll of our readers found that 76% would be happy if the only ISPs that could advertise “fibre optic” or “fibre broadband” were pure FTTH/P providers and in our experience if you do explain the differences to people then they do care.

In closing we should add that the new French decree also forces ISPs to give UPLOAD SPEED the same prominence as DOWNLOAD SPEED in advertising, which is something that big providers in the United Kingdom should really be doing too. See our 2014 article – The Forgotten Importance of Broadband Internet Upload Speeds.

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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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9 Responses
  1. Bob2002 says:

    ISPs probably want the cachet of using the term “fibre” to describe FTTC, perhaps we can learn something from breakfast cereal. ISPs can look at their connections and work out the typical fibre and copper constituents, then they can declare in adverts, “Contains on average 87% fibre …”.

    I realise April 1st was yesterday …

  2. dragoneast says:

    So just come up with an alternative word that is as short and catchy as “fibre”. That’s what marketing is about, and you know it.

    “Hybrid”? Duh, what’s that? Just confusion.

    The pedants will argue endlessly. That’s what they do.

    It’ll change when FTTP becomes dominant. At the moment DOCSIS/FTTC is the best most people can get. And they’re not too interested in what they can’t get.

    1. wireless pacman says:

      “Superfast” would do it for me. At least that is basically honest.

  3. MikeW says:

    So the French decided that FTTB couldn’t be called “fibre”. About the most draconian interpretation you could choose.

    I wonder whether the FTTH Council will pipe up on the issue.

    1. karl says:

      I fail to see why you think the FTTH council would have issue they already define FTTH and FTTB as different products and have done for some time…

    2. MikeW says:


      They are the FTTH council, yet have chosen to include FTTB in all their statistics. It is a matter of convenience that helps spread their message.

      Do you honestly expect them to change their mind, and expel FTTB any time soon, like France?

      There’s as much chance of that as there is of the FTTH council adopting FTTdp as an “entry level” equivalent to FTTB.

    3. karl says:

      As pointed out they already define FTTH and FTTB as different products, im not sure what you are still on about.

  4. Colin says:

    ISP customers don’t need to know the method used for delivering their broadband service.
    Customers are paying for the flow of digital information and are only interested in how quickly it flows in both directions.It is of no interest to me if fibre,copper or household string is used.

    1. Chris Collins says:

      Yes and no.
      FTTP isnt just about marketed speed, it removes the distance dependent variability of access speeds, it removes the need for DLM tricks to hide copper faults which in turn stealthily slow things down such as bumping latency via interleaving.
      So if your absolute only concern is the “up to” headline speed of the product you are buying, then by all means see the delivery technology as not relevant, but I think its wrong to push that on everyone.

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