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BT UK Broadband ISP Ad Banned for Misleading Full Fibre Claim

Wednesday, May 5th, 2021 (8:07 am) - Score 16,368

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a poster advert for BT’s Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) based ultrafast broadband service after it was found to have “misleadingly” claimed to offer “more reliable speeds” than a similar package on Virgin Media’s network in the Bristol area.

The poster advert itself, which was specific to the Bristol area during January 2020 and is something we’ve touched on before (here), contained text that told locals “Don’t settle for Virgin” and promised “Ultrafast Full Fibre with more reliable speeds than Virgin M200 and M350.” The comparison appears to have been set against BT’s then rival 300Mbps FTTP tier (this happened prior to BT launching their new 500Mbps and 1Gbps plans).

Naturally, this prompted Virgin Media to complain the advert was “misleading” and that BT had failed to substantiate it with locally sourced test data. BT responded by highlighting how Ofcom’s annual UK Home Broadband performance study had allegedly showed that their “customers received the speed they paid for more of the time than if they used the Virgin M200 and M350 services“.

In the end the ASA primarily found the advert to be misleading because BT had failed to make clear that their performance claim was made on the basis of national data, rather than data specific to the Bristol area. This was partly supported by feedback from Ofcom, which noted that “in some localised circumstances it was possible for cable services to perform comparably to full fibre services” and thus it was not considered appropriate to extrapolate the report’s findings to apply in the Bristol area.

ASA Ruling (REF: A20-1053191 British Telecommunications plc)

“Virgin highlighted that CAP Guidance on speed claims stated that the selection of areas tested should be representative of the target audience and a campaign targeted at a specific area might use data from tests carried out in that area. However, we considered that the guidance on speed claims, which was written with part-fibre and ADSL services in mind, was not applicable to claims about a full fibre service’s reliability. We understood that, like full fibre, the speed of cable services did not depend on distance from the local exchange or the nearest street cabinet, as was the case with other forms of part-fibre and ADSL services.

A Connected Nations Ofcom report also summarised that increased capacity of full fibre services meant that they provided consistent speeds that would not depend on congestion at peak times due to other users, which was not the case for part fibre (which included cable) and ASDL services. Nevertheless, we considered that, because the claim was a localised one, referring specifically to Bristol, and the ad did not make clear that the claim was based on national data, BT would need to demonstrate that the report’s findings could be applied on a local level in order to support the claim.

We consulted Ofcom, who explained that the UK Home Broadband Performance report indicated that, in general terms, cable services varied more in terms of speed and other performance metrics than other broadband networks, including full fibre services, at a national level. However, because in some localised circumstances it was possible for cable services to perform comparably to full fibre services, they did not consider it appropriate to extrapolate from the report’s findings that the cable services available to a particular local geographical area or group of users would display greater variability than full fibre services.

We therefore considered that the ad should have made clear that the claim was made on the basis of national data, in order to avoid misleading consumers. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.”

Technical comparisons between different network technologies, packages and locations can be fraught with difficulty due to the large number of different factors that can influence how a network performs. On the one hand you could argue that BT’s (Openreach) FTTP technology in January 2020, on comparable packages, was capable of offering superior upload speeds and faster latency times than Virgin Media’s Hybrid Fibre Coax service (note: back then VM were still mostly on the EuroDOCSIS 3.0 and not the DOCSIS 3.1 standard).

On the other hand, a smaller slice of Virgin Media’s network is also FTTP based and there’s also no accounting for other issues, such as localised network capacity / congestion in each operator’s network, as well as faults or network availability (a service isn’t faster if you can’t even get it), which can have a big impact upon area specific performance. Suffice to say that making broad performance claims like BT’s can be tricky, especially when extrapolating national data to a specific location. There will always be areas where both operators deliver poor speeds on even their top packages.

As usual the ASA has told BT not to run the advert again and to ensure that future such claims did not mislead by omitting the fact that they related to data on a national level. Virgin Media also complained that BT’s advert had “misleadingly omitted information on which of BT’s services were being compared against those of Virgin Media,” although the ASA did NOT uphold that gripe as they considered the mention of a 300Mbps speed to be “within the range of the Virgin services stated in the ad.”

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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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14 Responses
  1. GNewton says:

    Quite hypocritical since the same ASA allows misleading “fibre broadband” ads from both Virgin and BT for their cable and/or copper lines!

    1. AQX says:

      They’re legally allowed to advertise as Fibre so-long as it’s in the cabinet since the difference in advertising “it’s fibre to the cabinets” and “it’s fibre” don’t produce any benefit. Hence the difference of “Full Fibre” and simply “Fibre”.

    2. JP says:

      AQX – What Virgin claim as FTTC and BT claim as FTTC is different too though, ain’t no fibre in most Virgin cabinets.

      Though as far as asdvertising goes, Virgin Media now quote their service as DOCSIS 3 Cable rather than Fibre, they also have a statement explaining the use of thicker isolated cabling to homes.

      Too late to be making rulings on how we quote fibre broadband now though really.

    3. Dave says:

      What’s worse is, companies will say “full fibre” for VDSL connections..

  2. Frank Lucking says:

    A large part the BT network still contains copper or aluminium cable. So they have still a long way to go. At this moment in time. In most exchange areas. The only presence of fibre is between the exchange and and a designated Street cabinet with a cross connection to the conventional Street cabinet containing either copper or aluminium cables.

    1. Bruce Koyto says:

      Exactly what we have in my area. 1970’s estate with a terrible connection. Fortunately they are working on FTTP so at some point this year we’ll have a massive upgrade. A number of engineers have told me they won’t touch the aluminium as it has a high probability of falling apart and would then need replacing.

  3. adslmax says:

    BT FTTP more reliable and true fibre optic than Virgin Media slow speed as virgin never a true fibre optic. WAKE UP ASA more stupid fool ASA

    1. JP says:

      Where’s your proof, we live in a cancel culture now, so saying things true or not needs backing up…. that’s where BT messed the bed, they brought no data to attribute to the claim.

    2. Lexx says:

      With FTTP

      Flat line pings of under 10ms (no jitter) normally no packet loss (openreach use QOS so packet reliability over raw speed) and it works or it doesn’t due to nature of fibre and fault finding is significantly easier

      With docsis (virgin)

      Pings from 8 to 40ms (high level of jitter),high pings when upload is been used, packet loss when upstream is past 40% utilisation at the street level, harder to diagnose when you have fault (Street level fixes only usually fixed when new version of docsis comes out) no docsis provider around the world uses QOS, so aiming for max advertise speed and sacrificing packet reliability (high pings and packet loss)

      Bt statement is correct that there fttp is more reliable then virgin

      it might be that ASA got confused between FTTC and FTTP when bt was actually talking about full fiber (real fibre) as bt calls it

  4. Makaveli says:

    DOCSIS 3.1 comes with qos but that’s only for 1gbps package. The others are 3.0 and most of the time the ping is great and I don’t suffer from high utilization but the hub 4.0 suffers from terrible random lag spikes due to the intel puma chip. No hardware acceleration, it’s a joke and can’t be fixed because virgin will not use any hardware acceleration so that they can ruin it with their own software, most likely because it can effect DPI visibility.

    But to say you fixed it when it haven’t? Virgin made a big mistake with hub 4 and the issues disappeared once they got the new docsis 3.1 modem. Even tunnels and vpn’s now perform better.

    And as for BT, did they put that billboard up to congratulate themselves for rolling out 2 actual FTTP connections in Bristol? Lol only 10 more million to go.

    In Preston here, we have had awful FTTC for years. A Bt infinity up to 78mbps would get me 50mbps due to it’s pathetic 1970’s copper wire telephone line.

    Our countries a joke for profit and greed, they won’t spend money for IPV6 full stack, nevermind an FTTP rollout.

  5. Lee says:

    Scince I entered a 2 year contract for bt broadband and mobile phone on 22 April I have had nothing but stress ,waiting in for over a week for equipment, router, hub and mobile.i was told to wait in and no show ,I wasted days waiting g for nothing or the same thing twice..my order got cancelled, lost,reordered three times ..I finaly got a message Monday saying its all working finnaly.the complaints team have ghosted me and I was put on hold for an hour (intentionally)?I have been pushed from pillow to post and told today the complaints team can take 7 days so they should ring me tomorrow…dajavo.i havnt had time to see this amazing package or check my phone out either but the cooling off period started on the 22 April.. now I’m in a contract with messers and still no clarity..a prestigious top company ??a turn key prosess???I’m bitterly disappointed

  6. Buggerlugz says:

    Now we just need OFCOM to ban all “superfast” FTCC products, because they clearly are not superfast.

    1. Peter says:

      Totally agree it’s fake fibre and the misleading practice should be removed from any advertising or claims.

  7. Artemisia says:

    That’s what bothers you about BT ads? How about the overt sexism – the ‘negging Paula’ ad? Or the putrid, sexist, drug-promoting lyrics of their chosen music by Wilma Vritra BT uses in its “Don’t miss out” ad? (Shallow Grave) …Or just the general very, very poor level of imagination and quality of their advertising… they actually pay folks to create these ad campaigns? For real? I guess they haven’t lamely co-opted lesbianism (yet).

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