ASA rules on Virgin 'fibre optic' broadband claims
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published an adjudication relating to a series of radio, press and poster campaigns by Virgin Media which made claims that many have found confusing including its 'super duper fast fibre-optic broadband'.
The ASA received 22 complaints from the public, Sky and TalkTalk on a number of issues. The main ones are:
- The adverts claimed it was 'fibre optic' broadband when the connection from the street cabinet to the home was co-axial copper wire;
- The suggestion that the speed does not slow down no matter how far you live from the telephone exchange;
- Sky challenged whether the ad gave the misleading impression that cable broadband speeds would never slow down, and that Virgin Media customers would always be able to achieve consistent broadband speeds;
- TalkTalk challenged whether the claim "fastest and best performing broadband" was misleading because it compared ADSL with a 10 Mb cable connection, while the offer described in the small print was for Virgin's 2 Mb cable service. TalkTalk contended that their 8 Mb ADSL service was faster than Virgin's 2 Mb cable service;
- TalkTalk complained that the add was 'denigratory' as it implied VM was the only broadband company to tell the truth;
- Both TalkTalk and Sky objected to the comparison which they suggested made it seem as if only 50% of the country could receive services from them;
The use of a fibre/coax hybrid network that supports the DOCSIS standards does give Virgin Media an advantage on its cable access network compared to ADSL which is delivered over twisted pair cable. None of the complaints appear to dispute this, but a common objection is the lack of clarity in describing the network and for the general public there is a real chance they may believe it is fibre all the way to the home. This is particularly confusing for users because of the recent discussions of fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) services in the news, although we should point out that the adverts ran in mid-2007.
What will come as a surprise to many, none of the complaints were upheld. The adjudication held that the co-axial element of the Virgin Media broadband network was only a small proportion in comparison to the fibre backhaul. This argument could be extended to even ADSL since the local loop (the distance from the telephone exchange to the home) was only a small part of the total ATM network which links the exchange to a central aggregation point over fibre.
The claim that no one offers faster services is not entirely true with some ADSL2+ users exceeding 20 Mbps when we looked at the results in February 2007. It is fair to say that generally ADSL speeds are more limited as only a small proportion of users would be able to get those speeds at this point in time over the ADSL network.
Our main concern here is that with Virgin Media promoting a fibre network the average consumer may start to believe the UK has fibre based broadband akin to a fibre to the home (FTTH) infrastructure available to 50% of households. This is not about a battle between ADSL and cable technologies. It is about trying to ensure a public that already finds broadband confusing is not misled and confused even more when true fibre to the home services appear. We are pleased to see VM pushing the boundaries of broadband forward, making better use of a network they have had available to them for quite some time, and that can only be good for the broadband population as it forces ADSL suppliers to up their game.