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UPDATE ASA Rule UK Fibre Broadband ISP Adverts for Part Fibre Do NOT Mislead

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 1,545
fibre_broadband_advertising

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today determined that it is “not materially misleading” to describe broadband services that use fibre optic cables for only part of the connection to consumers’ homes (e.g. FTTC) as “fibre broadband“, much to the annoyance of UK MPs and critics.

The debate over the use or misuse of “fibre optic” terminology in broadband advertising has been going on for almost a decade and followed an ASA ruling in 2008, which allowed so called “hybrid fibre” or “part fibre” services (e.g. FTTC, G.fast or DOCSIS networks that combine fibre optic with slower metallic copper or aluminium lines) to use the same wording as pure “full fibre” (FTTH/P) ISPs that take the optical fibre all the way to your doorstep.

Opponents of the 2008 decision argue that pure fibre optic ISPs can deliver significantly faster speeds (i.e. they’re technically able to handle multi-Gigabit or even Terabit speeds) and are generally more reliable, while hybrid-fibre services tend to be slower and less reliable. In fairness, experiences do vary (e.g. Virgin Media’s hybrid fibre DOCSIS network performs quite well, while Openreach’s (BT) ‘up to’ 76Mbps FTTC tier often delivers much slower performance than its headline rate).

In the past this debate was less important because pure fibre optic ISPs only covered a tiny area of the UK (at the start of 2017 the figure was about 2%), although the Government has recently committed around £600m of public investment to help boost “full fibre” networks (here) and several senior Government MPs have also put pressure on the ASA to update their approach (here).

The Government’s Digital Minister, Matthew Hancock MP, who since last year has been helping to champion support for “full fibre” networks, said that “adverts should be clear, and if it’s fibre, it should say fibre. If it’s not, it should not.” Meanwhile other MPs, such as Matt Warman, have gone as far as to describe broadband providers as being “complicit in fraud” for their approach to advertising (here).

Matt Warman, MP for Boston and Skegness, said:

“An advertised fibre connection should be entirely fibre – that is to say the fibre to the cabinet options favoured for much of the UK roll-out should not count. The aim of this is twofold: consumers who pay for ‘fibre broadband’ shouldn’t actually be paying for copper broadband, and providers who do offer fibre to the premise should not be equated with those who don’t.”

Meanwhile both Openreach and Virgin Media have each committed to reaching 2 million premises passed with FTTP by around 2019-20 (4 million total) and Openreach are also considering whether or not they can push this to 10 million by 2025.

Meanwhile alternative network providers, such as Gigaclear, Hyperoptic and B4RN, could theoretically add a couple of million more to this aspiration and have also been lobbying the ASA for a change to the current approach (here).

Suffice to say that the market for FTTH/P providers is changing and in April 2017 the ASA finally agreed to review their position on the subject (here). Since then we’ve been waiting to hear whether the watchdog would proceed to take more direction action, although today’s decision appears to be a mixed bag.

Outcome of the Review

Essentially the ASA, having considered all of the evidence provided during the review, has concluded that it is not materially misleading to describe broadband services that use fibre-optic cables for only part of the connection to consumers’ homes as “fibre broadband“.

The review found that: “fibre” is not one of the priorities identified by consumers when choosing a broadband package; that consumers did not notice “fibre” claims in ads; that consumers, when probed, saw it as a shorthand buzzword to describe modern, fast broadband; and that consumers did not believe they would change their previous decisions after the differences between those services and broadband services that use fibre optic cables all the way to the home were explained to them.

The outcome perhaps reflects the problem of trying to change an approach that has long since become established in the consumer subconscious, where the meaning of “fibre” has been diluted over years of use (or misuse) alongside slower slower hybrid (part) fibre technologies. However, the ASA has thrown “full fibre” ISPs a small bone by issuing some new advice.

ASA Advice to Part and Full Fibre ISPs

* As has always been the case, ads should not describe non-fibre services as “fibre“;

* Ads should not state or imply a service is the most technologically advanced on the market if it is a part-fibre service;

* Ads should make performance claims for fibre services (part- or full-) that are appropriate for the type of technology delivering that service, and should hold evidence to substantiate the specific claims made; and..

* Specifically, ads should refer to speed in a manner that is appropriate for the technology, including by having due regard to CAP’s new guidance on numerical speed claims (here).

The first point about it always being the case that ads “should not describe non-fibre services as fibre” is a bit confusing in itself because this seems to be a reference to technologies with no fibre in their diet at all, which still appears to leave FTTC style solutions free to use “fibre” terminology. Some would also argue that a lot of wireless and other technologies may actually have some fibre in their diet, such as on the capacity supply side.

In other words, the ASA appears to have decided that no fundamental changes are necessary. No doubt supporters of the big ISPs will rejoice, while pure “full fibre” providers will be despondent. The ASA’s decision is also a smack in the face to MPs and those who had been calling for the change. But as we’ve said already, it was probably already too late to change things (the damage has long since been done). The big ISP marketing departments won this battle years’ ago.

Today’s outcome was published as a footnote to the ASA’s review of service speeds in broadband advertising, which will force ISPs to adopt an average speed (here).

What do you think of the ASA's ruling?

  • Only FTTP/H ISPs should be able to promote as "fibre" (83%, 168 Votes)
  • It's fine for FTTC / Part Fibre ISPs to promote as "fibre" (16%, 32 Votes)
  • Undecided (1%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 203

UPDATE 10:11am

The following is a joint statement from Gigaclear, Hyperoptic and CityFibre.

Joint Statement from Fibre Optic ISPs.

Despite being outwardly portrayed as ‘good news’ for consumers with its upfront focus on transparency of broadband speeds, today’s announcement from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) deflects attention from a hugely damaging decision that fundamentally undermines the battle to secure Britain’s digital future.

By concluding that it is not materially misleading to describe broadband services that use copper wires from street cabinets into consumers’ homes as “fibre broadband”, the ASA has failed in its duty to protect what is undeniably in the consumers’ best interest – the transparency around the services they are being sold by technology providers.

In the last year, central and local government, the regulator, businesses and consumer groups have cemented their support for full fibre, recognising its critical importance to the UK economy in a digital age. This vision is unlocking billions of pounds in competitive infrastructure investment and it is imperative that everything is done to encourage its uptake by consumers with a move towards recognising full fibre as the substantially different product that it is.

Only yesterday, the Chancellor Phillip Hammond confirmed that, “Full-fibre is the gold standard for fast and reliable broadband“. Therefore, by allowing copper-reliant products to continue to masquerade as full-fibre, despite their clear and recognised inferiority in terms of speed and quality, consumers will continue to be ill-equipped to make an informed choice, fuelling mounting distrust in the telecoms market place.

As the ASA has failed to take the appropriate course of action, we intend to fight this decision and will work with the relevant industry, regulatory and government bodies until we have a satisfactory outcome.

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Mark Jackson

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.

Leave a Comment
33 Responses
  1. FibreFred

    That’s twice they’ve ruled it’s ok. No doubt we’ll see a third attempt 🙂

    • AndyH

      The ASA’s problem was that it did not distinguish between services from the outset, so we’ve had years of the status quo being allowed. If they were to change things so only FTTH was allowed to be called ‘fibre’, it would undoubtedly lead to confusion amongst consumers for services like VDSL and cable.

    • MikeW

      It is right to continue calling products not just what they have been called for the last decade, but using naming that has long been sanctioned by the ASA.

      The lesson for the ASA is that they need to make hard decisions up front, the first time around. After that, it is too late.

      There is no point crying over spilt milk. But the endless comments down the remainder of this page will be doing just that.

    • Salek

      “ASA Rule UK Fibre Broadband ISP Adverts for Part Fibre Do NOT Mislead”

      Thats because we have all learnt to read in between the lines

  2. wirelesspacman

    What can you say, the ASA really is brain dead!

    To claim that “consumers did not notice “fibre” claims in ads” is unbelievable – if consumers “did not notice” then the suppliers would not use the phrase. I have lost count of the number of times that I have had to correct consumers on the use of the word.

    ADSL broadband is now, clearly, officially fibre optic broadband. So too is fixed wireless access, 3G and 4G!

    I really wish that an ISP would launch adverts claiming ADSL to be fibre optic broadband – just to see what those ASA idiots did.

    • AndyH

      We’re talking about the delivery of the service over the local access network of the “last mile”, not what happens in the backhaul or something thousands of miles away. If your argument was valid, then even pure fibre services should not be labelled ‘fibre’ because they will have some copper connections in a data or peering centre somewhere in the world.

      If you ask your average consumer, they buy the service based on cost and/or the speed they think they will get. They don’t care about the technical nature about how the service is delivered.

    • FibreFred

      “ADSL broadband is now, clearly, officially fibre optic broadband. So too is fixed wireless access, 3G and 4G”

      The “product” is local access. So… clearly not

    • wirelesspacman

      Broadband is “local access”???????

    • AndyH

      “Broadband is “local access”???????”

      Fixed line broadband service is the physical connection of a end user to the internet via a cable (coaxial, copper, fibre etc.). The “internet” already exists in telephone exchanges around the country, so yes, we’re talking about “local access” here.

    • datacenter_monkey

      “If your argument was valid, then even pure fibre services should not be labelled ‘fibre’ because they will have some copper connections in a data or peering centre somewhere in the world”

      While Copper still has its place in the data centre, for things like serial consoles and management networks, you will not find any access ISP who provides ‘ultrafast’ broadband who is also using copper for any external connectivity…

      If you are not convinced, show me where you can still buy a copper IX port in the UK?

    • AndyH

      datacenter_monkey

      Is there a reason why you keep changing your name?

      http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/content-tracks/servers-storage/copper-keeps-data-centers-low-fiber/94211.fullarticle

      “The last data point we have is from a host connectivity survey from Crehan Research, which showed that just over 20 percent of the host 1Gbps ports are still copper. The cost and the proven nature of the Category 6 (CAT6) cabling continues to be in demand by data centers, and the cost delta between dealing with small form factor (SFP) [fiber transceivers] and optical cables is what’s driving that. The other pragmatic part is that most people do not need the full length of optical,”

      “Research from Dell’Oro Group predicts that 80 percent of server connections will be 10GbE-based by 2018, with most intra-rack connections linking servers to storage, and leaf switches using some form of copper cabling over the short distances required.”

  3. dragoneast

    That’s the trouble with regulating advertising, what are you regulating? Public opinion (whatever that is)?

    If advertisements had to be facts, they’d all be banned.

  4. noxious_substance

    “If you ask your average consumer, they buy the service based on cost and/or the speed they think they will get. They don’t care about the technical nature about how the service is delivered.”

    A few years ago you could probably have argued the same between Petrol and Diesel cars, but now with 20/20 hindsight its fairly obvious that consumers do care about the technical differences between competing technologies.. at least when they find out how they really affect the user.

    • AndyH

      noxious_substance/datacenter_monkey – It’s really childish and pathetic how you keep changing your name. It shows complete weakness in any argument you put forward as you clearly feel the need to make it appear that more than one person supports you.

      ” its fairly obvious that consumers do care about the technical differences between competing technologies.”

      https://www.asa.org.uk/asset/592CBE75-E3A7-43FE-835A53C437035CAB/

      “Although varied across typologies, overall levels of knowledge and awareness of broadband speeds was low across participants.”

  5. mike

    If start a 56k dial up connection that’s copper to the exchange but is then carried across optical fibre, then this could be advertised as fibre Internet according to this stupid definition.

    • mike

      And isn’t there fibre to ADSL cabinet, so is ADSL “fibre broadband”?

    • AndyH

      We’re talking about your connection from the exchange to your premises.

      If we were talking about the complete IP route your traffic takes, then we would be calling cellular data as fibre. The same goes for telephone calls, once it leaves the exchange most telephone traffic is handled over fibre networks now. But we’re talking about how it’s delivered from the exchange to your premises.

    • mike

      What if somebody has ADSL with a 100m line to their exchange, and somebody else has VDSL with a 250m line to their cabinet? The VDSL connection has more copper yet can still be called “fibre”? It’s ridiculous.

    • AndyH

      How else would you call it then?

      At the end of the day, it’s whether Joe Bloggs is being misled in the advertising. Do people who buy ‘fibre broadband’ really expect a fibre connection to be installed to their property? Or do they buy the product based on the headline speed rate advertised rather than the technology to deliver it?

      The ASA is clearly more concerned about consumers getting the advertised speeds than the technology to deliver those speeds.

    • mike

      I would call it “broadband” because that’s what it is. So long as the technical details are there for those that want them, that would be fine. But no, the ISPs had to engage in this stupid game of one-upmanship and the toothless ASA supported them.

      People who buy fibre broadband really do think they’ve got a fibre optic cable to their house. That misconception is not helped when such services as BT Infinity are advertised with brightly glowing fibre optic cables, and no hint of copper.

      They don’t buy it based on speed, as everybody offers the same speed unless you’re comparing VM with a VDSL ISP. They buy it on the basis that one type of connection is fibre, and the other is not. They’re going to be so confused when one day they really do have access to fibre, and they come to upgrade their “fibre” to “fibre”.

      People, even relatively technical ones, are often surprised when I explain the broadband is still coming down their phone line.

      Consumers getting the advertised speed is a completely separate concern that the ASA is addressing separately.

  6. GNewton

    I think it is obvious for all to see that ASA is not doing a proper job.

    Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. Among psychologists something like this is also known as the “illusion of truth” effect. Even if a lie sounds plausible, why would you set what you know aside just because you heard the lie repeatedly? One thing is for sure: The repetition effect can’t mask the truth. However, perhaps the minds of many are prey to the illusion of truth effect because their instinct is to use short-cuts in judging how plausible something is. Often this works, as can be seen with ASA and the advertising industry.

    This begs the question: How do you protect the consumers from being mislead?

  7. Ben

    The problem with people who post on here is that you are by definition not the kind of consumer the ASA has to consider. You are all highly educated in broadband and geeks for whom this matters. Out there in the real world most people just want a reasonably priced service that does the basic job for them and they don’t care about the differences between silly buzzwords. You need to stop and think and take a look at yourselves, you act like some barmy cult obsessing about this.

    • mike

      Don’t you think the public should be educated? They’re paying for one thing and getting another. When they finally have true fibre available, how are they going to understand that the “fibre” connection they had wasn’t really fibre after all?

      You wouldn’t want to buy chicken from your supermarket to find out it was actually only 50% chicken, and now they want to upgrade you to 100% chicken after you’ve been buying it for years.

  8. Chris

    I am not happy with the out come. Only full fibre should be advertised as fibre. If I ask anyone at work or family and friends they think they are getting and paying for fibre. So they are miss selling it if people think they have a fibre cable when they don’t.
    It’s like when Tesco had horse meat in there burgers they was saying it’s beef but it was half horse.
    The consumer should know what they are getting and should be called part fibre or something, hybrid is not clear and calling it fibre is 100% misleading.

  9. Lyndon

    VDSL represents ‘super fast copper’ not fibre as this is the main open network technology used today along with the birth of g.fast.Can ISPs not add the word ‘Hybrid’to their descriptions…problem solved!

    • brian

      Average copper length from fttc cab to prem. 300m. Average fibre run from ex to cab is 2.8 km. Therefore only 1/8 of local access is copper. Ofcom regulate the product as a fibre product not copper.

      You know petrol is not 100% petrol, it has additives in. Should we ban the word petrol. I bought a cooked chicken the other day. It had string holding it together. Should we complain it was being mis sold. Should it be a chicken-string hybrid. Water companies would need to be renamed to water-chlorine-fluoride hybrid liquid companies. In fact any chemical you buy is not pure due to equilibrium.

      Hell, even copper broadband wouldn’t do. It would need to be renamed copper-fibre-hybrid-sometimes-a-bit-of-aluminium maybe-a-bit-of-wireless-broadband. However since the average bloke on the street doesn’t care in the slightest about such pathetic arguments stirred up by vested interest, we’ll just settle on the name fibre.

  10. ChrisP

    They should have insisted advertisers included what part of the fibre product was actually fibre. For example sky fibre should be described as sky fibre fttc, same for Virgin, then there would be no doubt. The current situation just leaves us open to more misleading abuse from retailers.

    I think everyone can uunderstand the difference between fttc and FTTP and fttb. Problem would have been solved.

  11. TomTom

    ISP should count what the average speed in FTTC crosstalk, banding or DLM on it.

  12. Alex Bristol

    In any other industry matters like this, how best to represent ISP services, the industry representative body would take ownership and talk to members and come up with a solution. In this case ISPA. If the regulators get involved like ASA and Ofcom it would suggest they have failed their members because we know regulators have different agendas with politicians etc. so the chances are they will come up with imperfect solutions.

    Why does no one here like talking about the ISPA having any part in this, they should be driving the ISP industry forward not the regulators?

    • GNewton

      How could the ISPA help here?

    • Alex Bristol

      Gigaclear, Hyperoptic and CityFibre need to be complaining to ISPA to come up a solution or put suggested solutions to them.

      1) The ISPA creates a task force with representatives from both full fibre and none full fibre ISPs.
      2) The task force works out the best solution or solutions.
      3) The ISPA presents the task force’s solution/s to all ISPs reminding them the way things are at moment ISP advertising is confusing to the public, negative to the ISP industry because of conflicting messages, the none full fibre ISPs might be selling full fibre in future so it is in their interest to resolve and better to have the issue resolved by ISPA where they still have some control rather than resolved by ASA, Ofcom or law and risk a rubbish solution for all ISPs.
      4) ISPA gathers up the ISPs preferred solution and feedback.
      5) The ISPA task force fine tune the chosen solution based on feedback.
      6) The ISPA announces the favourite solution to all ISPs and that it will be binding to all members from six months time. This gives the industry time to adjust to the new way of working.
      7) One or more ISPs may want to appeal the decision so the six month implementation delay gives time for these issues to be ironed out.
      8) One month before implementation the ISPA announces the agreed solution to the public.

      This is a rough and brief outline how the process could work but the point is the ISPA is best placed to get the full fibre and none full fibre ISPs talking and finding a solution. Currently this squabbling among ISPs is like hanging their dirty washing out for all the public to see, and this is where the ISPA should be stepping in and bring order. Governance of ISPs should be coming from within the industry not from the regulators, just like other high quality professions like doctors and General Medical Council, law firms and The Law Society, and so on.

  13. Marty

    Why not just call it hybrid fibre instead? it’s not that hard too understand?? Essentially that’s what it is. Call it that and everybody’s happy.

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