Telcos are still misleading consumer in broadband ads – FTTH Council

The FTTH Council Europe has written an open letter to various regulatory bodies bemoaning the care-free attitudes of telco marketers and PR ‘gurus’ when promoting their services.

This is of course not a new issue being raised by the FTTH Council, but it is a persistent one. The wider story is the telco’s ‘creative’ relationship with the truth in advertising, though the problem seems to be greater in the world of fibre connectivity.

“Misusing the word fibre in advertisements prevents the consumers from making an informed choice about the products which are available to them and risks hindering fibre take-up,” FTTH Council Europe President Ronan Kelly states.

“Where consumers know what they can choose from and understand the difference in performance between fibre and copper-based connections, they consciously choose fibre: the degree of satisfaction of FTTH end-users is substantially higher than recorded for any other Internet access technology in Sweden and 94% of non-FTTH users would consider subscribing to FTTH if it was made available in their area.”

Perhaps one of the biggest issues is the consumer does not need to care that much for the moment. As most broadband services are sold on speed, fibre is largely un-necessary. Your correspondent does not have a full-fibre broadband connection for the moment, and nothing comes to mind when thinking about poor or sub-standard performance. However, the issue is tomorrow’s world of connectivity.

Our digital lives are becoming more demanding of connectivity, and while there might not be many consumer services which explicitly need fibre-performance today, this will not be the case tomorrow. However, if telcos are using misleading advertising to sell copper-based services, the consumer will soon decide there is no material difference. Accusations will be thrown towards the telco when connectivity standards fail to meet the demands of tomorrow’s services, though it will only be the telcos fault for pitching the two products as more-or-less the same.

The other point which is worth making is that misleading advertising is wrong. No question about it. Unfortunately, the ‘creative’ relationship with transparency is a bad habit the telcos seem to be struggling to break free from.

Just as we have rid ourselves of the ‘up to’ metric, which was very little other than dishonest, claims of ‘fibre-like’ or ‘fibre speeds’ are still in the industry. The consumer is paying honest money to be informed, and there should not be a requirement to fact check the claims of telcos, or any other advertiser for that matter. We’re surprised this point even has to be made.

What is worth noting is the broad-brush here. There are of course honest telcos, while there are also regulators who are working hard to combat the misleading claims. The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) in the UK has re-worked the rules to ensure telcos can only claim genuine average speeds in advertising, though its research claims ‘fibre’ is not a top priority for consumers who viewed the term as a buzzword to describe speeds. Little has been done to stomp out the misleading use of ‘fibre’ therefore the telcos are free to compound the connectivity misunderstanding. It’s short-sighted, though this is not the first time we have said this about a public organization.

“Acting on misleading fibre advertising is in the interest of all European citizens and businesses but is also in the interest of Europe’s global digital competitiveness and sustainability,” said Kelly.

“Therefore we urge Member States, National Regulatory Authorities and BEREC to take action both individually and collectively to prevent misleading fibre advertising. This will contribute to unlocking the investment potential in fibre across Europe as well as to ensuring that consumers can make well informed choices based on genuine, transparent information.”