Watchdog Tells AT&T To Revise Fiber Broadband Ads

AT&T should revise some fiber broadband ads that run in areas where the service is not yet widely available, a watchdog said in a decision issued this week.

The decision stemmed from a complaint by Charter about an AT&T ad campaign that launched last December and ran on TV, billboards and online. The ads promoted fiber broadband, touting it as 20 times faster than cable broadband, according to the National Advertising Division, a self-regulatory unit administered by the Better Business Bureau.

Charter said in its challenge that AT&T's ads were running in markets were fiber service was only available to a small proportion of customers. AT&T countered that the ads said the service was "coming soon," and that some ads had disclaimers like "limited availability in select areas."

The NAD said AT&T's ads should include prominent disclosures in markets where the service was "more unavailable than available." The NAD also ruled that AT&T ads saying fiber is "coming soon" should also clearly and conspicuously state that fiber may not be available to all customers.

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Charter also challenged statements that AT&T was "20 times" faster than cable, given the current speed tiers on the market. Charter said that Time Warner Cable (acquired by Charter last year) offers a tier with speeds of 300 Mbps, that Comcast offers speeds of 2 Gbps and Mediacom has a 1 Gbps service tier.

AT&T agreed to stop including that boast, which the company said was based on the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 broadband report. The company also said it had stopped touting its service as 20 times faster than cable after the FCC's 2016 broadband report was released.

AT&T said it plans to appeal the decision that stating "coming soon" isn't sufficient to show the service will have limited availability.

"AT&T strongly disagrees with this recommendation because the statement 'Coming Soon' already clearly communicates that the advertised service is not yet available and thus, additional limited availability disclosures are unnecessary, contradictory and confusing," the decision states.

Charter also challenged AT&T's decision to advertise its fiber service as "Internet 1000," arguing that the company only delivers speeds up to 940 Mbps.

The NAD sided with AT&T on that point, writing that there was no evidence of a "meaningful difference between download speeds of 1000 Mbps and 940 Mbps."

Charter intends to appeal that portion of the decision, the NAD said.

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