The managing director of Fluidata, a UK based service provider, has questioned claims by BT and Virgin Media that they are offering fibre based broadband where the whole product is not delivered over a fibre connection. This is not a new argument as it has been raised before both with the ASA (advertising standards authority) and with Ofcom but neither seemed particularly bothered to do anything about it.
The concern focuses on the products being mis-sold as neither Virgin Media's cable broadband or BT's fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) service actually offer customers a fibre connection in their homes, even though they market it as such. Both companies rely on fibre being run to a street-side cabinet where a copper cable is then used to connect the end users home. In BT's FTTC products this is generally a short run of a few hundred metres which uses VDSL2 technology over a phone line. Virgin run copper coated aluminium or steel coaxial cables from the cabinets for the last 500metres or so of the connection.
"Call me old fashioned but I believe in a world where what you sell is what you get and that calling something you are selling one thing but delivering another is surely illegal? So why do the majority of consumer internet providers, namely Virgin and BT, believe it is ok to tell consumers they are buying fibre technology when, in fact they aren't.
Surely they can't then tell you that you are getting the 'power of fibre' or so on? Yes it is faster but only because they have shorten the distance of the copper, but the delivery is no different to that of ADSL where the cable is just longer going back to the telephone exchange. From here the network is, and for a very long time, have been fibre supporting high levels of bandwidth."Piers Daniell, (Managing Director) Fluidata
The ASA ruled on this back in February 2008 when Sky, TalkTalk and others took issue to adverts Virgin ran which claimed they provided broadband by fibre optic cable.
"The truth is this ... right now, in terms of broadband, there are two types of household in the UK. Half of us can access cable broadband. This is delivered via a fibre optic cable - meaning it is officially the fastest and most reliable available ..."Virgin Media National Press Advert
The adjudication on this by the ASA stated that they didn't believe the use of "delivered via a fibre optic cable" would mislead as the coaxial part of the cable network was a small proportion of the overall fibre connection. This therefore leads little room for complaints if this will be the argument used as defence by the advertising regulator. Perhaps one of the only ways forward is for broadband providers to raise a complaint about every misleading advert and hope that they finally take heed that something is amiss here.
Of course the current use of fibre advertising may lead to issues in the future when broadband operators are actually delivering a full fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) service as it may become a bit more difficult for them to market this full fibre product when they've been using fibre to describe the existing fibre hybrid products. One imagines at that stage the marketing will shift away from the technologies used and focus on the service that the products offer instead.