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BT Adverts Banned for Misleading “fastest fibre speeds as standard” Claim

Wednesday, Oct 12th, 2016 (7:51 am) - Score 1,024

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a series of adverts for BT’s Infinity “fibre broadband” (FTTC) services, including a major TV campaign featuring actor Ryan Reynolds, after Virgin Media complained that it had made “misleading” claims about service speed.

All three of the TV, national press and BT website adverts were seen during April 2016 and focused upon the ISPs new ‘up to’ 52Mbps broadband packages. At the time BT was the first major ISP to launch a 52Mbps option via FTTC lines and all three of the new promotions stated that this offered “the fastest fibre speeds as standard.”

Each of the promotions included small print to clarify that the “fastest speeds” claim was reflecting a comparison against “standard entry-level fibre products of major broadband providers” (e.g. BT’s 52Mbps vs Sky Broadband’s 38Mbps or Virgin Media’s 50Mbps etc.).

Naturally Virgin Media, which was perhaps being mindful of how FTTC performance often struggles to match that of its cable service in the real-world (i.e. outside of headline speeds), complained that the adverts wrongfully “implied that BT’s up to 52 Mb service was the fastest maximum speed for a lowest-priced tier available in the UK.”

Lest we not forget all of those other smaller ISPs, such as B4RN that only offers one package and it runs at 1000Mbps. BT calls this a “technicality” due to how such ISPs only have very limited UK coverage, but the ASA still ruled against them.

ASA Ruling (REF: A16-347899)

“We noted the explanatory notes and on-screen text in each ad. Whilst these did outline the basis of the comparison, we considered that they were insufficiently prominent to counter the overall impression that the comparison was against the whole market. Further, even when considered in light of these qualifications, we considered the ads were ambiguous and likely to mislead consumers because the footnotes and on-screen text contradicted, rather than clarified, the headline claim.

We noted that the major broadband providers against whom BT had compared their service, all advertised a slower maximum speed for their cheapest option. However, we understood that there were other providers on the market whose cheapest (or only) service options advertised faster maximum speeds than 52 Mbps, in some cases significantly so.

We therefore considered that, given the likely consumer interpretation of the claim, “fastest fibre speeds as standard” had not been adequately substantiated. In light of the above factors, we concluded that the ads were misleading and had breached the Codes.”

In fairness we’ve seen precious few broadband ISPs having their adverts banned by the ASA this year, which is a good thing and shows that providers have become much more aware of how their past promotions weren’t always particularly honest with consumers. It’s easy to forget that only a few years ago it wasn’t uncommon for over 30 such adverts to be banned in a single year.

Never the less the odd problem does still crop up and today’s situation is yet another example of why ISPs shouldn’t make sweeping claims about performance, especially in a market that is much more diverse than that of the biggest 6-8 ISPs. Separately the ASA are also continuing to investigate whether or not tougher rules are needed to improve how broadband speeds are advertised.

Alex Neill, Which? MD of Home and Legal Services, said:

“Broadband is now seen as an essential service, so providers need to be clear about what speeds they are offering in their promotions. The ASA also need to tighten up the rules around broadband advertising as soon as possible so that more customers can be assured the speed they’re offered is actually the speed they will receive.”

As usual the ASA banned the promotions in their current form (a moot point since most have already run their course) and told BT to “ensure that future ads made clear the basis of the comparison ‘fastest fibre speeds as standard’.”

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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