FTTH Council Europe Warns Against Misleading Broadband Claims
As Telecoms Ministers gathered in Brussels to adopt the new European Electronic Communications Code, the FTTH Council Europe has highlighted the fact that misleading fibre advertising risks undermining the Code’s key objectives of incentivising Very High Capacity Network investments and empowering consumers in a transparent manner.
According to the new Code, National Regulatory Authorities will have to consider four objectives when implementing the legislation: promoting competition; the internal market; end-users’ benefits as well as connectivity; and access to and take-up of Very High Capacity Networks by all EU citizens and businesses.
In an open letter authored by the FTTH Council Europe President Ronan Kelly, the organisation states that we are witnessing “fake fibre” advertising practices in several Member States. These use “fibre” or “fibre speeds” in advertisements for copper-based broadband, when the advertised product is not genuinely based on a full fibre connection.
One danger is that consumers thinking they already have full fibre will never switch to a FTTH connection. Misusing the word fibre in advertisements prevents consumers from making an informed choice about the products which are available to them and risks hindering fibre take-up.
The FTTH Council Europe reckons there is growing evidence that consumers are largely unaware of the form of Internet connectivity they have bought, oftentimes due to the associated advertising. A mid-2018 survey conducted in the UK has shown that almost a quarter (24%) of the respondents think they already had fibre cables running all the way to their home (fibre-to-the-premises), despite this being only available to 3% of UK properties at that time.
Where consumers know what they can choose from, and understand the difference in performance between fibre and copper-based connections, they consciously choose fibre. The degree of satisfaction of FTTH end-users is substantially higher than recorded for any other Internet access technology in Sweden, and 94% of non-FTTH users would consider subscribing to FTTH if it was made available in their area.
Secondly, another study found that “…such large differences between what is being promised and what is being delivered could actively suppress the demand for fibre as copper-based access may be wrongly perceived to provide similar services”. Selling inferior copper-based connections as fibre undermines the value proposition of real fibre and undercuts the investment case for full fibre deployment.
The issue has already been identified in several Member States and, as the problems of FTTH demand suppression continue, a number of individual countries are leading the way by backing specific legislation to limit the use of FTTH, Full-Fibre and other fibre related terms in advertising. In Italy, for example, the regulator requires that the term fibre is only used when marketing FTTH or FTTB services, and requires operators to use an easily understandable traffic light system in their communications to consumers. The FTTH Council Europe says it is convinced that this action will prove to be a very powerful tool in unlocking investment in full fibre rollout and advocate for a more consistent and European approach to this issue.
“We believe that fibre is the only future-proof foundation enabling fixed and wireless Gigabit networks as well as all new innovative digital technologies and services. Acting on misleading fibre advertising is in the interest of all European citizens and businesses but is also in the interest of Europe’s global digital competitiveness and sustainability,” stated the Kelly letter. “Therefore we urge Member States, National Regulatory Authorities and BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) to take action both individually and collectively to prevent misleading fibre advertising. This will contribute to unlocking the investment potential in fibre across Europe as well as to ensuring that consumers can make well informed choices based on genuine, transparent information.”
Individual service providers are also weighing in on the fake fibre ad debate.
“We supported CityFibre’s efforts to challenge the ASA’s (Advertising Standards Authority’s) position regarding partial-fibre advertising nine months ago, and we welcome any further efforts to stop broadband providers from misleading consumers in order to sell them inferior products that will ultimately leave them in the digital slow lane,” commented Evan Wienburg, Founder and CEO of UK full fibre provider TrueSpeed, in response to the news that the UK’s fibre industry wants European regulators to get tougher on misleading broadband claims. “Our industry is beset with jargon and complexity – a scenario that should serve as a rallying call for providers to introduce greater simplicity and promote customer education. Sadly, too many parties are more interested in obfuscation and consumer confusion, on the basis that it might help them make a quick buck before customers realise they’ve been short-changed.”