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New Ofcom UK Rules to STOP Misleading Use of “Fibre” Broadband UPDATE

Wednesday, Dec 13th, 2023 (10:26 am) - Score 16,000
dominic littlewood fake fibre cityfibre

The UK telecoms, media and internet content regulator, Ofcom, has today introduced new guidelines that will effectively only allow broadband ISPs to use terms like “fibre” and “full-fibre” on their websites, and in contracts, if their network brings fibre optic cables all the way to your home (i.e. FTTP / FTTH).

Some internet providers have, sadly, spent the best part of the past decade selling slower “part-fibre” or “hybrid-fibre” (e.g. FTTC, G.fast or Hybrid Fibre Coax / Cable) solutions as “fibre broadband” products, which is one of the reasons why so many people continue to be confused about the terminology today (i.e. if you think you’ve got “fibre” already, then you may be less likely to contemplate an upgrade to FTTP).

NOTE: The picture on this article, featuring TV celebrity Dominic Littlewood, is from CityFibre’s 2018 campaign against “misleading” uses of “fibre” terminology in adverts (here).

One of the biggest reasons why this is so important is because true fibre optic connections (Fibre-to-the-Premises), which take an optical fibre cable all the way to your home and deliver data using light signals, have few performance limitations in the local access network. Such lines are capable of delivering ridiculously fast multi-Gigabit speeds (even Terabits in the future), extremely low latency times and need less maintenance.

By comparison, the dominant hybrid-fibre solution – Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) technology – only takes and optical fibre to a local street cabinet and then uses tiny copper or aluminium cables to reach your home. This typically suffers from signal degradation over distance and is significantly slower, as well as being less reliable and more prone to needing repairs / maintenance.

Ofcom’s own research found that a quarter (25%) of fixed broadband consumers were not confident understanding the language and terminology used by ISPs. Similarly, Which? found that 38% of broadband decision makers are put off adopting gigabit-capable broadband as the terminology used to describe different packages makes it difficult to differentiate between them, while CityFibre found 54% of consumers do not understand that ‘fibre broadband’ includes a mix of different technologies.

In the past, there have been numerous attempts to correct this, such as via a review conducted by the Advertising Standards Authority (here) and a failed court challenge by CityFibre (here). Back in 2021 the Gigabit Take-Up Advisory Group (GigaTAG) also proposed several changes (here), including clearer labelling of broadband packages to help consumers understand the differences. But until now there hasn’t been a concrete change.

In March 2023 Ofcom finally acknowledged that the way fixed broadband services are delivered is changing (here), not least with respect to the national rollout of gigabit-capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) networks. As part of that, they proposed a number of changes to help ensure that consumers are getting the most useful and correct information, which have today been finalised – DETAILS.

Ofcom’s New Guidelines on Fibre Terminology

We have decided to issue the following guidance under General Conditions C1 and C2. In summary:

providers should give a short description of the underlying technology of each broadband product offered at point of sale on the website, in Contract Information and in the Contract Summary, using one or two terms that are clear and unambiguous, such as ‘cable’, ‘full-fibre’, ‘copper’ or ‘part-fibre’;

the use of the word ‘fibre’ on its own for describing the underlying technology is ambiguous, and therefore should not be used to describe the underlying technology; and,

providers should give a more detailed explanation of the underlying technology (for example through a link) so that consumers can understand what it means for them. It should also be given in a form that is accessible and easily understood.

Underlying technology information should be given to consumers irrespective of how they sign up for a service. Under our new guidance, those signing up online will be given this information on the broadband provider’s website. Those purchasing a service over the phone or face-to-face will be provided with this information in the Contract Summary and in the contract itself. A Contract Summary with key information on the service must be provided before the customer confirms the purchase.

We have concluded that this is the most proportionate approach to ensure appropriate information is provided to consumers and reduce customer confusion, while limiting the costs of implementation.

The question of how Fibre-to-the-Basement / Building (FTTB) services should be treated under Ofcom’s proposals was also raised. Naturally Hyperoptic, which has a fair bit of FTTB (as well as FTTP) in large apartment blocks, felt as if it should be treated in the same way as FTTP due to offering “comparable speeds“.

The caveat is that there are limits to this approach, as the copper-based cables in some buildings may struggle to reach up to 10Gbps or even faster speeds in the future (a lot of it is technically 1Gbps rated Cat 5 Ethernet cable inside the buildings). VMO2 similar raised it in the context of arguing that Ofcom’s policy did not distinguish between different types of FTTP.

Industry organisation INCA echoed the ongoing disagreements over the status of FTTB among certain providers, and agreed this was an issue that would require attention in the future, however in it took the view that this should not prevent or delay the measures outlined in Ofcom’s proposals. The regulator ultimately decided that, “for the avoidance of doubt, we view [FTTB] products as a ‘full fibre’ / ’fibre’ service in the context of our proposals.”

Otherwise, it should be noted that the new guidelines cover residential and small business services, but they DO NOT COVER ADVERTISING (excluding the usual point-of-sale information and contractual information etc.) – this is the remit of the ASA. “In the future, the ASA may consider again whether the use of the word ‘fibre’ in advertising is misleading,” added Ofcom. That should be fun, as they’ve previously opposed big changes.

In fairness, the ASA’s position did reflect the inherent 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 hybrid (part) fibre technologies. Meanwhile, most consumers still seem to pick a package based more on a combination of price, speed and quality than a specific technology.

Broadband providers have now been given 9 months to implement these changes, which means that Ofcom won’t begin to enforce it all until 16th September 2024.

UPDATE 2pm

The odd comment is started to come in on this now.

Malcolm Corbett, INCA CEO, said:

“Advertising of ‘fibre’ services is a longstanding issue in the industry, so it is good that this guidance has been published. Although Ofcom has given operators longer to implement the new conditions, INCA will be encouraging its members to adopt the new conditions as soon as they practically can. INCA also calls on all other operators, including BT, to adopt a similar approach to help bring clarity to UK consumers as soon as possible.

This ruling will help ensure more clarity for customers who are looking for high quality broadband. Trustpilot shows that customers who have subscribed to AltNet full fibre networks really notice the improvement. We call on the Advertising Standards Authority to amend its broadband guidelines to match these new ones published by Ofcom. INCA will also be reviewing its long standing Full Fibre quality mark to ensure it is aligned with this latest guidance from Ofcom”.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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Comments
57 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Jordan says:

    only 10 years late.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      Exactly

  2. Avatar photo Jack says:

    12 months before the whole issue becomes completely irrelevant. And who cares anyway if you’re given speed estimates at point of sale? Well done, Ofcom, finger on the pulse as usual!

    1. Avatar photo Ben says:

      Copper will still be around in 12 months time…

    2. Avatar photo Jack says:

      Yes, forgot what year we were in now! Pretty much irrelevant come December 2025. Or we’ll need a whole new set of terms.

    3. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      Copper will still be around long after Dec 2025.

      The copper network is not being retired, and it will still be used for broadband for anyone who doesn’t have FTTP (which is nearly half the country).

      What’s being retired is the baseband analogue PSTN – i.e. “dialtone” on the line.

    4. Avatar photo Simon Farnsworth says:

      More like 5 to 10 years before it becomes irrelevant. Openreach are unlikely to have finished FTTP to everywhere before 2030 at the earliest, and will keep FTTC (and possibly ADSL and G.fast) alive until they’ve done that. And Virgin’s FTTP rollout is not guaranteed to have finished by then, especially since DOCSIS 3.1 allows them to provide multi-gigabit services over coax.

    5. Avatar photo 125us says:

      Copper broadband will be sold for at least another decade Jack. What do you think happens in 2025?

    6. Avatar photo graham says:

      think jack has got confused with pstn removal and fttp. pstn removal ( by dec 2025 ) and fttp (99% by 2030 for openreach ) are 2 seperate rollouts/programmes. theres around 30m properties, OR are around 12.5m properties and adding around 80k per week for fttp

    7. Avatar photo SiC says:

      Do you work for OfCom or another government propaganda office?
      Have been suffering yoy decreasing fttc speeds for over 5 years now, current mgs is, wait for it…. Superfast 12M 8-o, no not all superfast fttc is that.
      FttP, no date 2026+, and at the rate of mgs degradation/deliquency, probably about 5M by then.
      So all these spin merchants of grate british digitalisation need to be honest about the gains, AND the losses going on.
      ’bout time the government/OfCon/Comparison sites listed by MGS first and then the range and NOT just the highly theoretcial by service grade that they misslead/obsfucate by.
      It would be nice if they started blah blah ‘Levelling Up’ deception and tackled some of the less’ proffitable’ and not just the low hanging fruit of ‘roll out’.
      Or (and) perhaphs arange for those getting less than the glossy advertised bb ‘speed’s, only to pay pro rata by the mgs in the small print?

  3. Avatar photo Taras says:

    should be

    Fibre broadband internet
    and full fibre internet

    and for wireless internet
    mobile broadband internet
    and
    wireless broadband internet

    1. Avatar photo SiC says:

      Its a shame there isnt great honesty and clarity of what is going on year by year – publish the real progress by connected minimum guaranteed speeds by address / postode* and also by Geographic covereage, and then by actual availability and takup -?
      Then we’d get actual % of deireable (10M min), superspeed (24M/30+M depending whose rating of ‘superspeed’ used – or better still both!) and gigabit of the nation, and of goverment communications progress – even of Levelling up progress, or not.

      According OR my avaiability of Fttp is u nlikley to be by 2026, so not even Real supperspeed until then!

  4. Avatar photo Tim says:

    This obsession with speed is a bit weird and reminds me of the trend towards smaller and smaller phones years ago. Over time phones have become larger again, but are more useful, with more features.

    Broadband providers should focus on quality, not speed.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Quality will become more of a factor once FTTP is ubiquitous, but for now speed remains a much easier and more familiar metric to market services. Quality and reliability are much harder things to contrast and compare, particularly as it can vary between locations and is much more technical (latency, packet loss, uptime etc.).

    2. Avatar photo mike says:

      Rolling out full fibre is both an improvement in quality and speed

    3. Avatar photo XGS says:

      I’m unclear what you mean by ‘quality’. Latency? Packet loss? Reliability? Most of us see zero packet loss outside of maintenance periods or faults and latency isn’t really an issue in the UK. Reliability is largely taken care of with FTTP.

      In some ways speed offers quality improvements: I can do pretty much whatever I like with my service without maxing out the line so no buffer bloat or jitter.

      Are you saying ISPs should be managing traffic on customer lines to prioritise certain applications?

    4. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      IMO what should be emphasised is that with fibre, you always get the speed to pay for. There’s no dynamic rate adaption.

      Copper is limited by whatever each line is capable of. This varies depending on how far you are from the cabinet, the weather, and many other factors.

      Therefore, even for the majority who only want regular speed broadband (say 40/10), in many cases FTTP is *much* better than FTTC.

  5. Avatar photo James says:

    Consumers don’t care what technology is used to connect to the internet.

    They’re more interested in what speed it is and how much it costs.

    By the way, many consumers refer to their broadband internet connection as ‘WiFi’.

  6. Avatar photo mike says:

    Anything less than full fibre should not have been allowed to be called fibre in the first place. Now we’ve got the absurd situation where there’s no such thing as “fibre” at all according to these new rules. I believe we have the ASA to thank for this mess, as they ruled it was ok to advertise FTTC as fibre.

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      it started with Virgin and their use of “fibre optic broadband” long before BT was doing FTTC.

    2. Avatar photo mike says:

      @Ivor I’m sure it was the other way around, BT did it first and the ASA allowed it

    3. Avatar photo GNewton says:

      It started with Virgin Media calling its coax fibre, and then BT started calling it FTTC fibre. This was clearly a failure of the ASA which simply didn’t do its job.

      BTW.: To this very day BT uses the “fibre” in a misleading way, see e.g. the BT broadband page where it offers “Fibre Essential”, “Fibre 1”, and “Fibre2”, with none of them actually being a fibre broadband!

    4. Avatar photo 125us says:

      No. Virgin did it first. BT complained and the ASA said it was fine as long as there was some fibre involved somewhere – so then BT did it too.

  7. Avatar photo mike says:

    Also how are ISPs going to explain to existing customers that what they previously sold as fibre is now not fibre but only part fibre or even just copper to the home?

  8. Avatar photo Anthony says:

    The sensible thing is to stop concentrating on the Fibre part entirely in this. So change vDSL to Copper to the Home, and change aDSL to “Full Copper”. Any customer hearing “copper to the home” will want to change out pretty fast to Fibre to the home. Job done.

    1. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      Your suggestion works too well for it ever yo be considered.

    2. Avatar photo GDog says:

      Sensible I agree. But where does that leave people like me who have to contend with aluminium wires?

    3. Avatar photo Darren says:

      That’s a good shout. Make copper the dirty word, nice and simple.

      GDog, haha, aluminium here too but not all of the line, the lead in is copper and the tie cable between the FTTC and PCP cabs is copper.

      So phone goes Aluminium -> Copper and broadband goes Fibre -> Copper -> Aluminium -> Copper.

      What do you call all of that!

  9. Avatar photo Fred says:

    I mean, it’s totally a moot point and a decade late…. ridiculous

  10. Avatar photo Fibre Scriber says:

    Still a bit of a mishmash i believe, can’t see any ISP’s using the term “Part Fibre” as a selling point, as this would effectively be admitting to the customer that they are being sold an inferior service, especially in an age when most people want to have the best, or to tell others they have the best.

    1. Avatar photo Stefan says:

      Agreed. Zen has gone one better and has adopted CityFibre’s description of FTTC as ‘fake fibre’ – not a good look for an ISP.

    2. Avatar photo RightSaidFred says:

      Totally.

      What if they called it “Last Mile Fibre” and “Last Mile Copper”…?

    3. Avatar photo NE555 says:

      I expect they will call it “hybrid fibre”.

      “Hybrid” sounds good, doesn’t it? Like hybrid cars, hybrid plants, hybrid martial arts. By hybrid, people think “best of both worlds”.

  11. Avatar photo Obi says:

    Another good move from Ofcom, though as others have said, quite late. What about those on ADSL? I feel like Ofcom should go one step further and restrict this to only legacy

  12. Avatar photo Darren says:

    Better late than never. Probably needed more now than ever as well to assist takeup.

    1. Avatar photo Vince says:

      It will have no impact whatsoever on that. This has no impact on advertising for a start.

    2. Avatar photo John says:

      @Darren Won’t make any difference to take-up.

      People don’t care (many don’t understand) what technology is used to provide their internet connection.

      All people consider is speed and price.

    3. Avatar photo Lewis says:

      @Darren – Poor take-up isn’t caused by what they call it.

      Poor take-up of FTTP is simply because the majority of households aren’t ready for it, the majority don’t need it yet. If they can manage perfectly well with a FTTC connection then why will they change?

      It doesn’t matter how much network builders/ISP’s try and push it, they’re not ready for it.

      Look at Cityfibre wasting money on their cringe worthy advertising, they’re still struggling to achieve decent take-up and hence putting builds on hold and making redundancies as they drown in debt.

    4. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Yes, tell me about it.

      After almost 2 decades of loyal service to Entanet then Cityfibre, I received a Christmas gift of redundancy.

      Thanks guys, happy Christmas and all the best for the new year!

  13. Avatar photo anon says:

    Without ASA changing its tune on advertising, this means nothing.

  14. Avatar photo Sameer Kureshi says:

    Hello how are you

  15. Avatar photo Sameer Kureshi says:

    Hello

  16. Avatar photo DaveZ says:

    Too little too late, as per usual and still far too little if they are not going to tackle the advertising.

  17. Avatar photo Dave says:

    People can’t move from copper if there is not a full fibre option. I live in Worcester and openreach and city fibre have no idea when we might get full fibre.

  18. Avatar photo Rik says:

    I cringed when providers used to call FTTC “Superfast Fibre”.

    I personally would have insisted providers stick with the technical terms: ADSL, FTTC, G.fast, FTTP and maybe appended the package upto speed on the end of it. That way there’d be no confusion.

    1. Avatar photo DaveZ says:

      Oh, there would be confusion but at least it would provoke people into finding out the difference instead of falling into the trap of thinking all fibre is fibre.

  19. Avatar photo Wayne says:

    The ASA were so stubborn about their wrong decision they actually fought it in high court and won. They argued it was not misleading to call copper fibre and insisted this wasn’t misleading the average customer. They clearly overestimated the average consumer imho.
    How stupid do they look now that even Ofcom thinks they’re wrong.

  20. Avatar photo Ian H says:

    It’s irrelevant now to those who can only get copper-based services, mobile broadband or cable (Virgin). Full Fibre in and of itself is a sham given that not everyone can get it. Plus don’t get me started on Digital Voice!!

    1. Avatar photo graham says:

      not everyone can get it yet ( 85% dec 2026 + 99% 2030 are openreach targets ) around 80k properties added per week. brother and neighbour both have digital voice ( 1 on fttp 900mb + 1 on sogea 30mb ) both with no issues

    2. Avatar photo Bob H says:

      Graham

      Lots of people may be getting connected but there’s still something like over 100 exchanges without a plan for fibre. Then a lot of exchanges that do have fttp don’t have full coverage either.

  21. Avatar photo Tom says:

    I don’t understand why this is such a complex and confusing issue. The name of the service should ONLY reflect the nature of the connection to the customer’s premises. The fact that it’s fibre to the cabinet is irrelevant, the internet is 95% fibre anyway, almost no one has copper past the cabinet anymore.

    So if it’s VDSL2, call it VDSL2, if it’s coax/DOCSIS, call it coax or “cable”, if its FTTP call it “fibre”. This was somehow not an issue in the earlier days of the internet where we had “dial-up”, “DSL”, and “cable”, and everyone knew what those meant. If someone is not tech savvy enough to know what those terms mean, then they shouldn’t care about the underlying technology and should just look at speeds or pricing or whatever.

  22. Avatar photo Tom says:

    I don’t understand why this is such a complex and confusing issue. The name of the service should ONLY reflect the nature of the connection to the customer’s premises. The fact that it’s fibre to the cabinet is irrelevant, the internet is 95% fibre anyway, almost no one has copper past the cabinet anymore.

    So if it’s VDSL2, call it VDSL2, if it’s coax/DOCSIS, call it coax or “cable”, if its FTTP call it “fibre”. This was somehow not an issue in the earlier days of the internet where we had “dial-up”, “DSL”, and “cable”, and everyone knew what those meant. If someone is not tech savvy enough to know what those terms mean, then they shouldn’t care about the underlying technology and should just look at speeds or pricing or whatever.

  23. Avatar photo Stephen Johnson says:

    Quite funny, BT misleads by pretending fibre 1 and fibre2 products are fibre and now customers are not switching to fibre because they think they have fibre already.

    1. Avatar photo Fender says:

      Its not funny because its not true. Consumers are concerned with price, speed and reliability. As long as they have a service which is working for them, the vast majority couldn’t care less what the technology is.

  24. Avatar photo Ben says:

    Well it’s a step I guess. Hopefully more people will now pick up on this and upgrade to fttp if it’s an option.

    In my area there are no ports left in the exchange for fttc so unless you are in a property that already has it you can’t get it. These properties and any new builds have to make do with asdl or 4g routers. There are a few random local streets with fttp, no dates for any more yet. If those properties took up the fttp there would be more than enough ports available for the properties without fttc to then get it.

    But what gets me is that most of the people on these streets don’t even know they can get fttp (I’ve actually asked) and when it comes to upgrades they just assume fibre means all fibre so haven’t taken it up.

  25. Avatar photo Chris says:

    We’re on Virgin Media’s Gig1 service and it’s absolutely fantastic, I love it. It’s lightening fast and is very reliable, plus it’s also great for me being a gamer too, as it virtually eliminates wait times, an average game takes between 6 and 12 minutes to download. The technology is DOCSIS 3.1 and it’s Hybrid Fibre Coax or HFC, it’s always been reliable and ultrafast for us. I believe VM02 are upgrading their Entire HFC network to FTTP using the existing ducts, so no doubt we’ll have FTTP once that happens. But as tech savvy as I am, All I care about is that the broadband connection works, is lightening fast, reliable, has low latency, jitter and ping.

    It’s good that Ofcom are stopping ISP’s calling broadband fibre when it’s not FTTP(true fibre) as not everyone is tech savvy and understands technology terminology, so it saves a lot of confusion.

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