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

Monday, Jul 10th, 2017 (1:43 pm) - Score 1,525

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.​”

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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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