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BT Get Three UK’s Ads Banned for Misleading Mobile Spectrum Campaign

Thursday, February 8th, 2018 (9:03 am) - Score 2,550
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A quirky 2016 advertising campaign by Three UK, which called upon Ofcom’s CEO to “Make the Air Fair” by imposing a mobile spectrum ownership cap of 30% that would have hit EE (BT) and Vodafone, has been banned after the Advertising Standards Authority branded it “misleading.”

The somewhat unorthodox campaign (here) formed part of Three UK’s battle to have the regulator introduce more favourable conditions into its forthcoming auction of the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz radio spectrum bands, which could be used for 4G and future 5G mobile services. At present EE owns over 40% of all Mobile spectrum and thus a 30% cap would have prevented them from bidding.

The campaign ran several adverts between December 2016 and January 2017, which included various statements such as: “don’t let BT ruin the UK’s mobile internet” and “ofcom are allowing [BT/EE] to buy even more in the 2017 spectrum auction. That means higher mobile prices, slower speeds and worse coverage for UK consumers” and “BT/EE dominate the market” etc.

However BT and two members of the public complained that the adverts misleadingly implied that ‘Make The Air Fair‘ was an independent body (it was founded by Three UK with support from TalkTalk, CityFibre, Gamma and Relish Wireless). BT also complained that some of the above statements were similarly misleading.

The ASA investigated and ultimately upheld all of the complaints, not least because Three UK had allowed their adverts to appear as though they came from a consumer campaign (even though they didn’t) and had failed to properly substantiate their other claims of harm against BT / EE.

ASA Ruling (REF: A16-366771)

The ads must not appear again in the form complained of. We told Make The Air Fair to ensure its ads did not imply that it was an independent body campaigning on behalf of consumers.

We also told them not to make claims which stated or implied that BT/EE ‘dominated’ the mobile market, that it could ‘ruin’ the UK’s mobile internet, or that if BT/EE bought more spectrum in the auction it would result in higher mobile prices, slower speeds and worse coverage for UK consumers, unless they held adequate substantiation.

Not that yesterday’s decision will have much of a tangible impact. All of this occurred over a year ago and thus the adverts have long since run their course.

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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.
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3 Responses
  1. wireless pacman

    I feel left out as I never saw any of those ads!

  2. Michael

    I don’t think any part of that campaign was misleading. They did pick on BT as EE has a lot of spectrum & there does need to b a cap on how much each operator can buy as all four need a chance to get a decent amount & ofcom needs to make sure it’s fair in the 5G-NR auction. But also Three could have bought more LTE Spectrum but chose not to.

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