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Beware of fibre broadband advertising – Brits are being cheated

5 min read

30 September 2016

Deputy Editor, Real Business

The nation’s broadband issues have transcended into the marketing space, with research suggesting two thirds of Brits are being misled by advertising – and experts are now comparing it to the horse meat scandal.

When is a fibre optic broadband service, well, not fibre optic? While most of us think we know the answer, it seems we’ve been duped somewhere along the way. Essentially, customers using fibre broadband have fallen into a marketing trap. This is according to Cable.co.uk, which explained that 67.7 per cent of Bt Openreach network users believed the cable providing their Internet was fibre optic.

But the network is comprised of fibre optic cables from the telephone exchange to the street cabinet, and copper cables go from the cabinet to customers’ homes. This by no means suggests your Internet speed will increase. “It is important, because the speeds available over copper reduce drastically over distance, severely limiting both current speeds and future upgradability,” the company said.

As such, it claimed broadband advertising was being misleading. In fact, Cable.co.uk quoted Benoit Felten, who used to be a consulting director for telecom firms in France and Belgium, as suggesting the situation was comparable to the 2013 horse meat scandal.

Clarity over the term “fibre” is key

It’s time for marketers to be transparent and sell what they advertise, Felten explained: “There’s a reason we don’t have ‘meat’ on food labels instead of ‘beef’ or ‘pork’. There’s also a reason why horse meat lasagne was a big scandal in Europe: it’s not that they were improper for consumption, it’s that when you buy beef, you should get beef.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the debate of whether fibre broadband was being accurately described was brought up. Take, for example, in 2014, when the Advertising Standards Agency almost filed a complaint against BT for deeming its Infinity product fibre optic after a thorough investigation.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of the Independent Networks Cooperative Association, also claimed the use of the word ‘fibre’ to cover many different connections was a “bugbear” for telecom firms that actually provided the real deal. He said: “I think it’s time we did something in the UK about the misleading advertising of ‘fibre broadband’ for products that are actually fibre to a cabinet and copper to the premises. Ofcom have made statements about wanting to see clarity and accuracy over broadband products for consumers and this is an area that warrants action. If the French can do it, why can’t we?”

Indeed, the French have made great strides in terms of clarifying the term, with the EU country’s government even going so far as to set rules for when the word could be used in sales and marketing.

From now on, when an advert states the download speed, it must also point out the upload speed with the same amount of visibility. Further to that, if the fibre cable only makes its way to the street cabinet, providers would have to state: “…except connection to the home”.

It goes without saying that the UK would benefit from adopting the French government’s approach. Felten seems to be of the same belief: “I think cable and FTTC providers have had it way too easy on this particular count in the past, mostly because advertising and competition authorities weren’t savvy enough to understand the differences between the different networking solutions.”

This article is part of our Real Business Broadband campaign, which seeks to provide a mouthpiece for business leaders to vocalise the broadband issues preventing their businesses from reaching full potential. We’d love to hear your take on the debate and where you think the UK needs to make drastic changes. Get in touch via email (shane.schutte@realbusiness.co.uk) or join in on the action using #rbBroadband.