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UPDATE ASA Probe Deeper in Investigation of Fibre Broadband Adverts by ISPs

Monday, July 10th, 2017 (1:43 pm) - Score 1,406
Coaxial Copper Cables

The Advertising Standards Authority has announced that their existing probe into the use or abuse of “fibre broadband” terminology in ISP adverts, which can currently apply to both slower hybrid fibre (FTTC / HFC DOCSIS) and ultrafast “full fibre” (FTTP/H) services, is being extended.

True fibre optic (FTTP/H) providers (Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, B4RN etc.) have long complained that it is unfair and possibly even misleading for slower hybrid fibre (aka “part fibre“) providers, which only take the high capacity optical fibre cable to a local street cabinet or distribution node (slower / less reliable copper cables then cater for the final run into homes), to market their services with the “fibre” terminology.

The issue has been going on for the best part of a decade, although things only recently began to change after senior Government ministers sided with FTTP/H providers in the argument (they’ve just started a big “full fibre” push and so have an interest in resolving this) and began pushing for change (here and here).

Today’s update confirms that the ASA’s initial probe is now being extended into a more detailed investigation, which will require additional research. This will no doubt please some of the most vocal “full fibre” Alternative Network (AltNet) providers.

ASA Statement

The term ‘fibre’ is currently used in advertising to describe both part-fibre and full-fibre broadband services.

The UK Government’s recently published Digital Strategy made clear its commitment to invest in full-fibre broadband infrastructure, which is likely to make those services available to significantly more people, and also made clear its view that the term ‘fibre’ should only be used to describe full-fibre broadband services. A recent debate in Parliament saw those MPs who participated also expressing their concerns about the use of the term ‘fibre’ to describe part-fibre broadband services.

In response to that context and those concerns, we set up a scoping a review of how we interpret the Advertising Codes when judging the use of the term ‘fibre’ to describe broadband services. As part of our review we have written to key stakeholders and received a range of responses from providers of part-fibre and full-fibre broadband services, consumer organisations and other regulators.

Having considered those submissions, our view is that further consumer insights would help inform our judgement of whether consumers are likely to be materially misled by the term ‘fibre’ when it is used in advertisements for part-fibre services. We have therefore commissioned independent consumer research from Define Research and Insight Ltd to provide those insights.

Apparently the additional work is due to get underway “immediately” and we can then expect the results from this research to be published before the end of 2017. We wouldn’t be at all surprised if this found that consumers were confused about what “fibre” actually meant, in terms of both service delivery and performance.

On the other hand the ASA are rather known for conducting surveys with only a very small sample of consumers, which isn’t always the best approach when setting new policy. Similarly any change now would come after years of injecting “fibre” into the consumer subconscious, which many have long since associated with slower broadband connections than intended.

As a result it could be said that the damage has already been done and changing the rule now might not have the desired impact. Not forgetting that the latest hybrid fibre services (e.g. HFC DOCSIS on Virgin Media or G.fast on Openreach [BT]) could in the future potentially reach Gigabit speeds, which might weaken the argument for a change.

UPDATE 11th July 2017

We’ve just had a new comment come in from the Government.

Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“I am very pleased to hear the Advertising Standards Authority announce that they are launching a more detailed investigation into the use of the term ‘fibre’ in broadband adverts.

With both Government and the private sector announcing major new investment in next-generation full fibre infrastructure, it is more important than ever that consumers are provided with clear and accurate information about the services available to them. Accuracy in adverts is important. Adverts should be clear, and if it’s fibre, it should say fibre. If it’s not, it should not.​”

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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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30 Responses
  1. Avatar GNewton

    Must be a real struggle for ASA to grasp the meaning of the word “fibre”. One day they’ll get there.

  2. Avatar MikeW

    My concern has been with confusion.

    Not about confusion over what the term “fibre” means to consumers at the moment, but a related issue: whether changing the terminology rules now, after being in place for nearly a decade, will cause more confusion or less.

    I’m all for reducing the confusion, but not if it creates more confusion.

    So a consultation with the very people who are confused, or would get confused, is a good move. Let’s hope for good quality consultation.

    • Avatar CarlT

      After allowing the term to be used as it has for so long it does seem strange to decide to ask the public now. That ship will have sailed I imagine.

      The ASA are clearly getting pressure from industry and government. I imagine BT don’t like the idea of their fibre optic broadband coverage going from 90% to 1.4% and VM from 52% to 1%.

  3. Avatar dragoneast

    Can I risk opprobrium by trying to speak up for normal people? What concerns us is whether we can do what we want to with our connection. We don’t care particularly what it’s called. We’re not stupid either. We know that we we can receive depends on the state of the local infrastructure. So we will, as usual, leave the jobsworths, and the moaners, to get on with it; and use our own judgement. We are not fools, or fooled; whoever the hype comes from.

  4. Avatar adslmax Real

    Real Fibre is optic fibre. FTTC isn’t fibre!

    • Avatar TheFacts

      So ‘It uses fibre optic technology to deliver superfast broadband speeds of up to 76Mb’ does not say or imply it is fibre to the home, just that it is part of the technology used.

    • Avatar DanielM

      @TheFacts

      So one could call 3G,LTE etc fibre too/

    • Avatar alan

      LOL using that comment we all have fibre phone lines and things even prior to ADSL were fibre. Not shocked though anything to defend BT cack.

    • Avatar Neil Kean

      ‘TheFacts’ TV, newspaper, media ads for the likes of BT, SKY, VIRGIN all imply the customer is getting super fast (a superior product) when you sign up to their fibre broadband over standard broadband but all that’s happening is fibre optic to the nearest high Street cabinet then standard cable into your home. I don’t remember any of them saying sign up to our part fibre deal. They are once again playing the paying public for mugs!! Much like the speed claims, they play on customer demand for a faster, more reliable service, package a half assed product, sell it at a premium then come up with all sorts excuses for not delivering what people are paying for.

      If they can’t deliver the service/product as advertised then they shouldn’t be allowed to advertise it. And all the disclaimers about distance from box, heavy traffic times should be scrapped too. A product advertised at 76mps should be just that, for everyone that pays for it not just those few who live a few yards from terminal and can go online at three in the morning!!

      These companies need to be held accountable for misleading those that pay their wages.

  5. Avatar baby_frogmella

    Perhaps Hyperoptic should also get their knuckles rapped by the ASA?

    Hyperoptic in MDUs (where they mostly deploy) do not actually bring true fibre to each flat/apartment, they bring fibre to a distribution point in/near the building and then 100’s of metres of ethernet cabling goes off to each home. Now compare that with the FTTP offering by Gigaclear, B4RN. Openreach et al where fibre actually goes inside the premises and then only a short ethernet cable is required from the PON equipment to the router.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Hundreds of metres of Ethernet cabling to each home? If there are any with that distance between switch and the individual unit they are done over fibre, not copper.

      Someone associated with Hyperoptic made an interesting suggestion that anything that isn’t rate adaptive and distance limited should be fine for the advertising criteria and I entirely see the logic in that.

    • Avatar alan

      “…Hyperoptic in MDUs (where they mostly deploy) do not actually bring true fibre to each flat/apartment, they bring fibre to a distribution point in/near the building and then 100’s of metres of ethernet cabling goes off to each home.”

      1. Perhaps thats why they call it FTTB, oh and Err NO, CAT6 cabling max recommended length is only 100 Metres NOT HUNDREDS of metres, so thats obviously false also.

      “…Now compare that with the FTTP offering by Gigaclear, B4RN. Openreach et al where fibre actually goes inside the premises and then only a short ethernet cable is required from the PON equipment to the router.”

      You point is what? Both use Ethernet copper cabling at some point in the chain yet you think one use is ok and should be called “fibre” but the other is not!

      The solution to all this stupidity is simple, if you don’t have a fibre entering your building then you can not call the service fibre.

      FTTH/FTTB/FTTP all have a fibre than enters the building you reside in, the service is not rate adaptive person to person unlike those where the fibre terminates at varying distances in some cabinet from the end user. So those 3 are what should be called fibre… Nothing more!

  6. Avatar Stephen Wakeman

    Dragoneast has a point. Fibre is a sales buzzword now embedded in the consumer cognizance. What it means in terms of the final service delivered is arguably more important than the technicalities of what it actually is.

    As stated in the article, DOCSIS and G.Fast both have projections of offering up to Gigabit speeds somewhere down the line. If you as a consumer have no choice and FTTP is not available, then I dare say that if you can get an alternative that is competitive in terms of the endpoint offering, then whether it’s fibre or genetically modified super potato technology won’t make a lick of difference to you. Bits and bytes are all the same as long as the service you’re getting meets your needs.

    • Avatar nucco

      Only if copper can stay speed-competitive with true fibre. Reclaiming fibre will shift focus to advertised speeds rather than abusing the term. Virgin media may not do so badly here if they provision their nodes adequately.

      ISPs that make the effort to deploy fibre to the B/P then have that extra marketing glitz of being able to call their service fibre.

      Then BT can actually stop mucking about with VDSL and either deploy gfast more widely so their speeds remain competitive, or actually deploy more fibre so they can market it as fibre.

    • Avatar Chris P

      they should just call it a new name that is recognisable by the public as a product they may want.

      The public expect Fibre to mean a fibre optic cable going onto a device in their home.

      VM could call their copper equivalent DOCSIS
      BT etc could call their copper equivalent G.Fast

      VM could call their DOCSIS Fibre RFoG or FTTH/P or Fibre BB
      BT etc could call their FTTH/P/B just that or Fibre BB

      i’m sure if people where told up front they’d understand that their FTTC or VM Coax isn’t FTTP/H.

    • Avatar ultraspeedy

      “As stated in the article, DOCSIS and G.Fast both have projections of offering up to Gigabit speeds somewhere down the line. If you as a consumer have no choice and FTTP is not available, then I dare say that if you can get an alternative that is competitive in terms of the endpoint offering, then whether it’s fibre or genetically modified super potato technology won’t make a lick of difference to you.”

      The only problem with that is G.FAST will NOT deliver the same as what FTTH/P will. G.FAST is a distant dependent tech, someone say 500 Metres away from where the fibre terminates will not get the same as someone 50 Metres away. This situation will be compounded by BTs decision now to “PROBABLY” only run G.FAST to the cab via a pod on its side rather than the earlier possibility of all the way to the phone pole.

      DOCSIS 3.1 and its future is a bit rosier but that still is technically distant dependent.

      Either way neither G.FAST or DOCSIS 3.1 is the same as a FTTH/P/B connection and neither are capable of the speeds of FTTH/P/H to the majority of people.

    • Avatar CarlT

      How is DOCSIS 3.1 technically distance dependent, please? By that metric all technologies are as none have unlimited range. FTTB has a maximum copper run of 100m, PtP is dependent on the optics and fibre used, fibre has loss, and PON is dependent on those and has similar timing restrictions to DOCSIS.

      It being incapable of FTTx speeds is debatable, depending on how you define those. If a symmetrical gigabit is the standard 3.1 can do that in its standard variant. With its full duplex variant this can go to multiple gigabits in both directions.

    • Avatar Stephen Wakeman

      Ultraspeedy – that is a different issue. The merits of using hybrid technology is one thing, but what I said is that if the consumer is getting a service that meets their needs, it does not matter if it’s full fibre or part fibre because they don’t care. The issue being discussed is the marketing nomenclature.

      How many people who get say 80/20 with G.Fast will be bothered that it’s not 150/30 FTP? Most customers opt for lower tiers of FTTC products anyway because it’s fine for their needs.

      4G is what the UK mobile market terms LTE and it’s not true 4G. But in the end do I care if I’ve got really good mobile data speeds? No. Because the semantics aren’t as important as the end product. Only if people are being misled in a damaging way is it really an issue and I don’t think the majority are savvy enough to care and those that are don’t buy into the hype anyway.

    • Avatar ultraspeedy

      “Ultraspeedy – that is a different issue. The merits of using hybrid technology is one thing, but what I said is that if the consumer is getting a service that meets their needs……..”

      NO WHAT YOU SAID WAS…
      “If you as a consumer have no choice and FTTP is not available, then I dare say that if you can get an alternative that is competitive in terms of the endpoint offering, then whether it’s fibre or genetically modified super potato technology won’t make a lick of difference to you.”

      and the same response applies, most will NOT get the same “endpoint offering” from G.FAST as they would from FTTP/H. Many will be lucky if they see more than a couple of hundred Mbps from G.fast Let alone 1 Gbps. Maybe if you pitch a tent next to the Gfast pod and a kind engineer plugs a wire in for you. To even think Gfast is a mass solution that gives the same “endpoint offering” as mass FTTH/P network would is laughable.

    • Avatar ultraspeedy

      @carlT Not sure what happened to the response to your post, basically i agreed with you on the points and alan as he had pointed out to babyfrog about ethernet and 100M distance in RJ45 cabling.

      The possible exception was docsis. I had read something about that being distant dependent. I did post a very long PDF link but freely admitted i had not read it fully so i may well be wrong on the distance dependent part of docsis and/or not read enough of the PDF. I think it was due to that link the post got removed/never appeared.

    • Avatar Stephen Wakeman

      Ultraspeedy – You’re still on about the tech though. Customer X will not care if they are getting 200Mb or 2000Mb because in a good majority of cases even 200Mb will be overkill for consumer applications for a good 5 to 10 years. Please explain again WHY the naming of the technology matters to the AVERAGE CONSUMER.

    • Avatar ultraspeedy

      “Ultraspeedy – You’re still on about the tech though.”
      On the contrary it was you that went on about the tech in your opening post, i tried to explain the differences, obviously a futile task.

      “Customer X will not care if they are getting 200Mb or 2000Mb because in a good majority of cases even 200Mb will be overkill for consumer applications for a good 5 to 10 years.”

      1) How is that a 200Mb product comparable to a 2000Mb product? In terms of your words… “competitive in terms of the endpoint offering” its totally different.

      2) You also forget upload speed. People on FTTH/FTTP will have the capability of symmetrical upload rates, GFAST wont do that. AND YES plenty of people would like to back up their system to the cloud faster than 30Mb at a time.

      3) 200Mb will not be overkill in 5 years time, bandwidth use grows year on year, an example is in 5 years 4k rather than 1080p will be the norm. That right now uses double the bandwidth just on youtube streams compared to 1080p versions and weigh in at around 60-80Mb currently.
      Watch 2 or 3 of them and that is your 200Mb network as good as used. NOT unusual either in a house with kids. You may not be able to think 200Mb is usable by most but its pretty easy, you also again have not thought of upload and fred wanting to upload his 4k videos.

      “Please explain again WHY the naming of the technology matters to the AVERAGE CONSUMER.”

      Stupid question… Why is it important i call a can of baked beans errr “baked beans” rather than calling it a can of Spaghetti??? BECAUSE THATS WHAT IT IS
      Why is it important every bit of tech includes its tech specs???? TO MAKE AN INFORMED DECISION AND BUY TO MY REQUIREMENTS.

      You may not care what you buy i imagine most do though otherwise the ASA, Ofcom and government would not be looking at it.

      Good luck with your 200Mb in 10 years, i doubt something that slow in speed will even be sold by then LMAO

  7. Avatar gerarda

    Maybe the answer is that any service calling itself fibre would have to have a relative speed indicator. So in relation to full gigabit fibre FTTC would be called superslow fibre.

  8. Avatar Marty

    To avoid confusion you could have it like this
    Superfast fibre
    Ultrafast fibre
    Lightspeed optical fibre

    • You’ve got several problems there, “superfast” and “ultrafast” are both changeable definitions that increase over time and optical fibre doesn’t work at “lightspeed” (it goes about 31% slower than the speed of light due to the lack of a vacuum).

  9. Avatar RuralBroadbandSucks

    Perhaps they could use numbers to represent the minimum download speed, as I am sure many people are now familiar with the concept of numbers. I suppose the marketing departments will do their best to cause confusion around “is a big number is good or bad”, but i am sure people will grasp the steep learning curve of 100 is better than 2, as long as the units are kept consistent across the board, and that they always represents a peak time measurement.
    Perhaps a format something like “Mininum peak-time download speed: Mbps” where the Mbps is not allowed to be swapped to Kbps or Gbps.
    A current example for clarification:
    “Minimum peak-time download speed: 2Mbps” – Bad internet, like us rural folks deserve.
    “Minimum peak-time download speed: 300Mbps” – Good internet (for now), like the urban elite deserve.

    • Avatar CarlT

      Must have been where most in urban areas had guaranteed speeds.

      As far as the persecution complex goes there is more FTTP and way more spent per person in rural areas than urban ones in broadband, subsidised by the urban elite’s taxes.

    • Avatar CarlT

      -been +missed. Silly autocorrect.

    • Avatar ultraspeedy

      I fail to see why people have come up with all these other complications and ideas on names for services.

      Services should just be called what they actually are… IE FTTC, FTTP, FTTH etc, people are not so dim they do not know the difference between what a HOME is and what a CABINET is.

      We did not have all this BS in the days of dial up and onward from that, you had dialup, ISDN, then along came ADSL, and ADSL2/2+, broadband did not require any stupid “superfast” or “fibre this and that” tag lines back then and it does not need any of the PR or government fluffy naming now.

      The situation we have now is ridiculous. AND no before some BT dribbler blames VM its not just down to them.

    • Avatar RuralBroadbandSucks

      @Carat like street lights, footpaths. etc are partly subsidised by rural. My point is, that there should be no segregation and there should be a universal service obligation across the board that they complete for everyone within a defined timescale.

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