Claims on www.bt.com promoted the BT broadband service and offered an 'availability checker' which users could search, based on their landline phone number or address, in order to find out which services were currently available to them; namely Total Broadband and the faster Infinity Broadband. Text next to the field in which visitors entered their details stated "Check if you can get BT Infinity," and "We're investing in the future of the internet by rolling out BT Infinity across the UK. Different locations will be enabled to support BT Infinity at different stages so you can use the availability checker on the side to see what BT Broadband products are available in your location and what speed you can expect. You can also use our handy map, which will let you see when we plan to roll out BT Infinity in your area".
Based on searching by their landline telephone number on 20 September 2012, one complainant was presented with a table which indicated, under the column headed "When can you get it?", that they could get Total Broadband "Now," and that Infinity Broadband would be available on 30 September 2012. Further text stated "When we are able to provide a date for future fibre availability, it is indicative only and subject to change".
Having checked again on 25 September 2012, the complainant noted that the date Infinity Broadband would be available had been changed to 31 December 2012.
Fifteen complainants challenged whether the dates they had been presented with, which showed when Infinity Broadband would be available, were misleading, because they had noted, on visiting the website again, that the date had been pushed back, in some instances, repeatedly, over a long period.
BT said they had recently made significant changes to the wording on the Infinity checker to clarify that the dates shown were provisional and the final changes went live on 16 October 2012. They provided a document showing the amendments.
They said, due to last minute delays caused by circumstances beyond BT's control, it was unfortunately not possible to absolutely guarantee that a cabinet would be Infinity-enabled on the dates shown (although they stated that the vast majority were enabled by the given date). They believed they had now given customers sufficient information to prevent them being misled. They said they were also working closely with Openreach, who provided the data that went into the checker, to improve the accuracy of the information they gave to customers.
They stated that, additionally, their work with Openreach had resulted in the development of the new superfast online checker and the availability checker was to be significantly amended in early 2013. They were in the early stages of building the new checker with their digital agency but would bear in mind any issues raised about properly communicating availability dates. They said any further wording agreed with the ASA would be incorporated into the new checker.
They explained that Openreach, which enabled fibre exchanges and cabinets for all communications providers, including BT, had a tool on its site that allowed customers to enter their postcode and obtain up-to-date information about the status of their local exchange and their local cabinet. They gave the example that a consumer might be told that their local cabinet was enabled, but the site would also tell them the status of the individual cabinet their home was connected to, list any cabinet delays and give the reasons why.
The ASA noted that some complainants had understood that the date the availability checker showed for their area was provisional, but had further understood, on that basis, that it signalled an approximate date when the roll out of BT Infinity was scheduled to be completed in their area. They therefore expected BT Infinity to become available on or around that date; not for the date to be subsequently extended by three months, and for that to occur on a regular basis, as had been their experience. We also noted that one complainant had been informed by BT on 17 October 2012 that plans for the BT Infinity roll-out in his area had been put on hold. However, when he submitted his phone number to the availability checker, the date for BT Infinity availability in his area was marked as "31 December 2012".
We considered that the appearance of a date or provisional date in the availability checker suggested that active plans were in place to roll out BT Infinity in that area and that the service would therefore be available on or around that time, and the listed date should not be subsequently or regularly pushed back. We noted we had not seen supporting documentation showing that, in each of the areas where the complainants were based, the listed date in the availability checker was based on scheduled plans for Openreach to have BT Infinity available in those areas on or around the listed dates.
We considered that the date BT Infinity was expected to be available in their area would be a material consideration for consumers when deciding whether to register an interest in the service. Because we had not seen documentation that showed there were scheduled plans to roll out BT Infinity in the complainants' areas and make BT Infinity available in those areas on or around the listed dates, and because we understood that, in at least one case, there were currently no plans for BT Infinity to be rolled out in an area while the availability checker listed a provisional date that was less than three months away, we considered that the inclusion of provisional dates was likely to mislead.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising) and 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation).
The claim must not appear again in its current form. We told BT to ensure that the availability checker only included dates if they corresponded to scheduled plans for Openreach to engineer the BT Infinity service to the corresponding area.