ASA Ruling on British Telecommunications plc
British Telecommunications plc
81 Newgate Street
12 November 2014
Poster, Internet (on own site)
Computers and telecommunications
Number of complaints:
A poster ad and website ad, for BT Infinity broadband:
a. The poster ad stated "Our lowest ever price for BT Infinity fibre optic".
b. The website ad, at www.productsandservices.bt.com, which listed various BT broadband packages, included details of four BT Infinity broadband packages. All four were described as "Fibre optic broadband".
Two complainants, who understood that BT Infinity broadband was provided via a 'fibre-to-the-cabinet' connection (FTTC), rather than 'fibre-to-the-premises' connection (FTTP), challenged whether the references to BT Infinity broadband as "fibre optic" were misleading.
CAP Code (Edition 12)
British Telecommunications plc (BT) said that BT Openreach figures showed that fibre optic broadband was available to 19.08 million premises in the UK, of which FTTP was available to 144,000 premises. They said that gave FTTP a footprint of 0.7% of BT Openreach's fibre optic network. They said that niche providers supplied FTTP to an additional 150,000 premises, approximately, in specific geographical pockets of the UK, predominantly in densely populated areas. BT said that the above figures did not reflect the actual uptake of FTTP by customers; the number who had FTTP was much lower. BT said that taking those figures into account, at their best estimate FTTP availability accounted for 1.5% of total fibre optic availability (rather than actual customer take-up of the service), and an even smaller proportion of the combined copper and fibre optic broadband base which was around 1%. They said that unlike FTTC broadband, FTTP was not widely advertised. BT considered that the lack of presence and profile of FTTP broadband meant it was extremely unlikely that consumers would expect that a service promoted as "fibre optic" was FTTP.
BT said that the enormous increase in the availability of FTTC broadband since 2008 meant that customers were far more likely than they had previously been to understand exactly what FTTC was and were consequently less likely to be misled by the use of the terms "fibre optic". They added that the fact remained that the components of FTTC broadband were largely fibre optic and it was that element of the network that provided significant benefits over and above ADSL broadband, which used exclusively copper connections.
The ASA understood that almost all of BT Openreach's fibre optic network, which was used by BT as well as most other broadband providers, comprised fibre optic cable from the telephone exchange to the street cabinet, and copper cable from the cabinet to customers' homes. Such connections were known as fibre-to-the-cabinet, or 'FTTC' broadband. Signals sent over copper cables were much slower, and the overall speeds achievable by FTTC broadband connections were therefore affected by the length and quality of copper cabling used. A very small proportion of the fibre optic network used by BT comprised fibre optic cable all the way into consumers' homes (fibre-to-the-premises/property, or 'FTTP' broadband). FTTP broadband could deliver significantly faster connection speeds than FTTC broadband because the connections did not use any copper cable. We understood that BT's "Infinity" branded broadband products, which were referred to as "fibre optic" in the ads and which delivered speeds of a minimum of "Up to 38Mb", were generally supplied through FTTC connections, although they also included connections supplied via FTTP.
According to Ofcom research figures published in August 2014 almost 100% of UK premises had access to standard 'ADSL' broadband, which was delivered through copper telephone cables only. 'Superfast' broadband (which typically used FTTC, FTTP or Virgin Media's cable network of fibre optic and co-axial cable) was available to 78% of premises in the UK. However, we understood from Ofcom's figures that although take-up of superfast broadband connections had increased year-on-year, only 26.7% of broadband connections were superfast. We understood Ofcom did not have figures available as to the relative composition of FTTP compared to FTTC, either in terms of availability or actual take-up by consumers. We noted BT's estimate that FTTP availability probably accounted for only 1.5% of total fibre optic broadband availability.
Ofcom research from 2013 showed that consumers who had upgraded to a superfast connection most often cited value for money, speed of downloads, faster speeds compared to their previous service, and good simultaneous performance on different devices as reasons for upgrading. We noted that in 2013 the majority of consumers had access to superfast broadband of at least one type, but the majority of those with broadband connections instead continued to use ADSL connections. We therefore understood that the primary market for companies such as BT which supplied superfast broadband was consumers who continued to use ADSL broadband. We therefore considered that most consumers who responded to ads (a) and (b) were likely to be interested in switching from ADSL to superfast connections.
In that context we considered that consumers who might be interested in "fibre optic" broadband of one sort or another would primarily be concerned with the improved speed and performance which could be delivered in comparison to an ADSL connection, and the cost at which that service could be obtained, rather than being concerned with obtaining the most technologically advanced fibre optic product available at any cost. We therefore considered the use of the term "fibre optic" to denote a broadband connection which primarily comprised fibre optic cable whilst including non-fibre optic cable as a small proportion of the overall connection was unlikely to mislead the average consumer. We concluded the ads did not breach the Code.
We investigated the ads under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 and 3.3 (Misleading advertising), 3.9 (Qualification) and 3.11 (Exaggeration), but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.