Industry Watchdog Tells AT&T To Add Disclaimers To Fiber Ads

Some AT&T ads for high-speed fiber broadband service should carry disclaimers about the service's limited availability, an industry self-regulatory group said this week.

"While the extent to which AT&T Fiber is available in a given market varies, the record shows that AT&T Fiber is generally more unavailable than available in market areas where it is offered," the National Advertising Review Board wrote in an opinion made publicly available this week.

The opinion upheld a decision issued last year by the National Advertising Division, a unit administered by the Better Business Bureau, in an advertising dispute between Charter and AT&T. The battle centered on an AT&T ad campaign that launched in December of 2016, and ran on TV, billboards and online. AT&T's ads promoted fiber broadband, touting it as 20 times faster than cable broadband.

Charter challenged the ads, arguing that they 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 National Advertising Division said last year that AT&T ads promising fiber is "coming soon" should also clearly and conspicuously disclose that fiber may not be available to all customers.

AT&T appealed that decision to the National Advertising Review Board -- a panel of five outside advertising experts. The telecom said it should be able to use the phrase "coming soon" without additional qualifications, arguing that disclaimers about limited availability would confuse consumers.

The appellate panel disagreed with AT&T's arguments.

"Marketing a service as 'Coming Soon' to a market where it is not yet available will, without sufficient qualification, reasonably convey a message that the service will be available to all or most consumers in that market," the panel wrote. "If the service will not be available to most consumers, the service’s limited availability should be clearly and conspicuously disclosed."

AT&T said it would comply with the recommendations.

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