For the third time in three years, Comcast and CenturyLink have taken a battle about ads for broadband service to the Better Business Bureau's self-regulatory unit National Advertising Division.
The companies are bickering about whether each other's ads accurately convey the price of broadband, and whether they accurately inform consumers about the quality and speed of service. Today -- as in 2013 -- the National Advertising Division largely sided with CenturyLink. Last year, Comcast won a round in the feud.
The Comcast ads at the center of today's decision feature a salesman who tells a prospective customer that CenturyLink delivers “kinda good Internet.”
The would-be customer replies that a Federal Communications Commission report shows that CenturyLink doesn't “deliver the the speeds you advertise.”
The ad also includes a voiceover stating: “CenturyLink doesn't deliver...Xfinity gives you the fastest most reliable Internet and the best in entertainment.”
The NAD said that statements about CenturyLink not delivering its promised speedy service aren't justified by the evidence. Comcast argued that the statements about CenturyLink's broadband speed were based on the FCC's 2014 “Measuring Broadband” report, which found that CenturyLink's actual download speeds were around 89% of the promised speed. That report also found that Comcast delivered its promised broadband speed -- or even faster speeds.
The NAD said in its ruling that Comcast's ads overstated CenturyLink's speed issues. “While NAD agrees that the 10 percent difference between the challenger’s and advertiser’s sustained download speeds is significant, CenturyLink’s delivery of 88% of its advertised speeds represents a higher level of performance than suggested by the challenged claim,” the opinion says.
The NAD didn't find a problem with some of the other claims in Comcast's ads, including the boast that “XFINITY gives you the fastest, most reliable Internet.”
Comcast said it will take the recommendations into account in its future advertising, according to the opinion.
Comcast and CenturyLink aren't the only companies complaining about each other's ads for broadband service. The NAD also has weighed in on disputes involving ads by Verizon, AT&T and Charter.
Seven months ago, the NAD told Verizon to revise some of its ads touting the company's fiber-optic network. Those ads -- which were challenged by Comcast -- implied that FiOS delivers a better connection for video-chatting and gaming, according to the NAD.
Last November, the self-regulatory group said AT&T should tweak U-Verse ads that boast of speeds up to 45 Mbps. The self-regulatory group said that AT&T should tell consumers they might not experience U-Verse's maximum advertised broadband speeds -- which range from “up to” 18 Mbps to “up to” 45 Mbps -- if people in the household are streaming two HD channels at the same time. That decision also came about after a challenge by Comcast.
Two years ago, the NAD found that Charter denigrated AT&T by implying that companies with AT&T broadband service use “outdated, slow equipment.”
It's hard not to wonder whether these types of disputes would occur so frequently if consumers had better access to information about broadband speeds. After all, companies might have less reason to argue with each other about claims related to broadband speed if subscribers could tell for themselves how fast their connections were.
Unfortunately, broadband subscribers still don't have access to good data about their service, according to a new report issued on Monday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
“Currently, ISPs’ disclosures vary with respect to length, content, and where they are placed on ISPs’ websites,” the GAO wrote. “In addition, according to public interest groups we spoke with, the complexity of this information and its lack of standardization across ISPs can make it difficult for consumers to find and use the information to compare broadband products and services.”