ASA upholds complaints against Virgin Media 'fibre optic' advertising
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has dealt yet another blow to Virgin Media by upholding a number of complaints relating to its national press advertising for the firms broadband services.
Virgin Media has been controversial within the technical community by advertising its 50 meg broadband service as 'fibre-optic' when it is based on a fibre-coax hybrid solution. Sky and a member of the public challenged Virgin's claims about the way in which the advert implied that the copper local loop used in ADSL broadband was unable to cope.
"EVERYBODY'S TALKING ABOUT FIBRE OPTIC BROADBAND THERE'S ONLY ONE COMPANY ACTUALLY DOING IT The way we use the internet is changing. Now that we're watching more things like BBC iPlayer, the old-fashioned copper phone wires that other broadband companies use, are struggling to cope. But as people are beginning to realise, there is a solution - fibre optic broadband. After investing about £13 billion, only Virgin Media have fibre optic broadband that's widely available. Prices start at only £4.50 a month, guaranteed for a year, when you take a Virgin phone line for £11 a month."Virgin Media National Press Advert (quoted from ASA Adjudication; our emphasis)
Sky also challenged Virgin's claim that it was the copper network causing problems pointing out that Sky did not need to implement a traffic management policy to restrict its customers broadband use on its copper based network, whilst Virgin Media did have such a policy on its fibre network. We note that whilst Virgin have retained the right to implement a traffic management policy on its 50 meg broadband, at present it only seems to apply to 10 and 20 meg services, although it appears take-up of the fastest service does not seem to be great in the first month or two since its launch.
The ASA makes reference in its judgement to the claim that "the maximum theoretical download speed that could be achieved through a single copper phone line was 24 Mb"--This is the current maximum based on ADSL2+ technology, but the theoretical maximum speed from a copper local loop is greater (based on the laws of physics) and is in excess of 100Mbps for very short lines. We need to stress for readers however that this is not a service you should be expecting in the near future, although fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) based services similar to Virgin Media's fibre-coax hybrid solution will increase the maximum actual speed over the copper network.
Virgin Media defended its position on traffic shaping suggesting that this was only to curb the activities of a very small number of individuals, and referring to articles written on the BBC and here on thinkbroadband relating to BT's FTTC rollout. The ASA rejected Sky's claim that the traffic management implemented by Virgin Media meant that it was unable to cope with demand noting that Virgin had made clear in advertising that both types of services were affected by the volume of users.
However, it upheld the other four complaints relating to the way in which Virgin Media portrayed ADSL as struggling under pressure of increased consumer demand, judging that the comparison was not fair or substantiated. It also upheld a complaint relating to a quote from BT relating to a national fibre network being at least 20 years away, noting that this referred to FTTH, although it also concluded that Virgin's claim to be 4 years ahead in other adverts was unlikely to mislead since this was FTTC and equivalent to Virgin's current hybrid setup. Similarly, it concluded that Virgin's claim to have the "only fibre optic network widely available in the UK" was in breach of the codes of advertising practice relating to truthfulness.
"We told Virgin to avoid exaggerating the impact that high bandwidth applications were having on the speed of delivery of ADSL broadband and to remove the claim 'fibre optic broadband is already here and paid for' in ads that referred to the extent of their network coverage. "ASA Judgement
The battles between the service providers on what is and is not an acceptable comparison will continue. We have no doubt that Virgin is helping to push the boundaries of broadband to the next level, but the content available online is not yet in place to make 50 meg broadband such an obvious step against 20 meg services. Also, indications are that congestion is increasingly moving from the 'last mile' (the distance from your home to the telephone exchange or local collection point) to the inter-links back from the local exchanges to central locations, as evidenced by speed reductions at peak times; this peak time drop is not caused by distance of the premises from the local exchange which is the cause of many ADSL speed problems. In simple terms the peak time congestion can result in people who have a 1Meg broadband connection being unable to reliably play a 0.5Meg video stream.
Probably the more important question is when will we start seeing upload speeds in excess of 2.5 meg?