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Fibre claims called into question – is there such thing as an honest broadband advert?

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If the ‘up to’ metric wasn’t enough to frustrate broadband customers in the UK, new research has uncovered that fibre advertisements are just as much of an irritation.

Research conducted by Opinion Leader (but commissioned by CityFibre, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic), which has been submitted to the Advertising Standards Agency has poked holes in current advertising themes, claiming them to be misleading. The issue here is whether broadband providers can actually claim to deliver a fibre product when in fact there is still copper-based infrastructure in the network.

“While there was a great deal of confusion about the technical aspects of broadband delivery and the terms used to describe services, participants in our research were very clear about what is important to them when purchasing a broadband product – transparency and accuracy,” said Neil Samson, Director at Opinion Leader.

“Participants typically understood that a full-fibre service represented a step-change in the quality of their broadband – in speed, reliability and consistency – and felt misled by products delivered over copper phone wires or cable being advertised as ‘fibre’. They simply want adverts to provide them with fair and accurate information so they can make an informed choice, something that it appears the current advertising rules on fibre do not allow them to do.”

It is a slightly suspect and murky area of the advertising world. Yes, there have been fibre investments in the network, and there are some premises which have Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH), though these are the exception as opposed to the rule. Watching some of the adverts you can see why some may believe them to be misleading.

The complication is where the fibre actually is. Buildings which have been built more recently might well have FTTH, but larger flat blocks might fall into the Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) category. Most would assume this is full-fibre, but not necessarily. For example, the fibre-optic cables run all the way to your flat block, but not necessarily to your flat. It could be in a box in the basement, with copper running the rest of the way. Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) takes the superfast network to up to 300 metres from your premise, while Fibre-to-the-Node (FTTN) is the same but up to several kilometres away.

A pessimist might argue the creation of numerous phrases and acronyms was done purposely to create the grey areas for advertising, but we at Telecoms.com always want to look on the brighter side of life. Irrelevant of nefarious undertones, the graded approach to fibre content has allowed broadband providers to inadvertently (or possibly directly) mislead customers.

It doesn’t actually matter, as while there is still copper in the network, bottlenecks will appear and the transmission of data will slow. For operators, moving the data across the bulk of the network through fibre has significant advantages, but the last mile is all about customer experience. Fibre speeds (the ones promised on the adverts) will be impossible until this is rectified.

In each of the aforementioned examples, there is fibre in the network, so technically the broadband providers aren’t doing anything wrong. But it is cheeky, and considering how complex these topics can be for the everyday man-on-the-street, it will be taken at face value on numerous occasions. Virgin Media is one which has built its empire on the idea of a fibre alternative, though it does use coaxial cables to get the broadband into your home from the cabinet. Newer properties might be FTTH, but this is not 100% fibre, 100% of the time, which the advert suggests.

The ASA is doing well to address the ‘up to’ metric, so perhaps this should be next on the hit list. We hope so, as your correspondent is starting to get bored and frustrated with the ‘freedoms’ offered to ‘imaginative’ advertisers to allow for such ‘creative’ claims. Maybe somewhere out there is a broadband provider which actually tells the 100% truth all the time. Here’s to hoping, ey?


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