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CityFibre calls for judicial review of UK advertising watchdog ‘fibre’ ruling

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CityFibre has filed for a judicial review of the UK’s advertising watchdog, the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA), 2017 ruling, which approved the continued use of the term ‘fibre’ to describe services delivered over copper-based networks.

The builder, owner, and operator of fibre-optic infrastructure argues that the research and logic that led to the ASA’s decision was fundamentally flawed and that the watchdog has not only permitted, but also encouraged internet service providers to continue to mislead consumers.

Under pressure from parliament, industry and Government, which called for terms like ‘fibre’ to be used only when referring to ‘full fibre services’ in last year’s Digital Strategy, the ASA reviewed the use of the term ‘fibre’ last year but ruled in November that no change was required. A number of broadband infrastructure firms, including CityFibre, lashed out at the ruling (see What's in a name? Fibre ads ruling could harm investment), saying that the move could harm investment in ‘full fibre’ networks.

The ASA concluded that consumers are not misled by the term ‘fibre’, which CityFibre says directly contradicted independent research commissioned by full fibre operators that found, while consumers are often confused by broadband jargon, they understand that end-to-end fibre connections represented a step-change in the quality of their broadband and felt misled when products delivered over copper phone wires are advertised as ‘fibre’.

The UK government and industry have confirmed their support for full fibre networks for some time, recognising their critical importance to the UK economy (see Policy shift sees the UK start on a full fibre diet).The majority of broadband services delivered over BT Openreach or Virgin’s infrastructure, says CityFibre, are reliant on all-copper or part-copper-part-fibre networks, and the presence of copper in any part of the network results in slower download speeds, even poorer upload speeds and far less reliable services than the new generation of future-proof full fibre networks.

Commenting on the decision, chief executive at CityFibre, Greg Mesch, said: ‘You could hardly expect an automotive manufacturer to get away with advertising an ‘electric car’ when the most electric part of the car was its windows. The time has come to do away with “fake fibre”. The ASA’s short-sighted decision to allow yesterday’s copper-based infrastructure to masquerade as the future-proof full fibre networks of tomorrow is a clear failure in its duty. It has failed to ensure honest and truthful broadband advertising, it has failed to enable consumers to make informed choices and it has failed to support a national infrastructure project critical to our success in a digital age.

‘Without clear and transparent advertising to guide their purchasing decisions, millions of consumers will be conned into staying on inferior, copper-based broadband services. The first step to righting this consumer wrong is for the ASA to reverse its decision, which perpetuates the “fake fibre” lie.’

Matthew Hare, chief executive of Gigaclear, has responded in support of CityFibre, saying: 'We fully support CityFibre’s challenge of the ASA’s ruling allowing the term ‘fibre’ to describe services delivered over copper networks. Without the knowledge of how full fibre differentiates from part fibre, consumers are being blinded to the fundamental capabilities of services on offer. With part fibre, the consumer is wholly reliant on the quality of the copper or other technology that is connecting them to the fibre backbone.

'As CityFibre cites, the research we undertook in 2017 clearly showed that consumers typically felt it was misleading to describe part fibre networks as ‘fibre’ because it impedes their ability to differentiate between the different capabilities of different technologies. Yet no action has been taken by the ASA to rectify this.

'As a nation, we lag far behind the majority of Europe in relation to full fibre. Currently, full fibre is only available to 1 million properties in the UK. The government has communicated the importance of full fibre networks for our economic future. Now the telecoms industry and the ASA needs to respond. It’s time to educate consumers in a clear and concise way, to ensure they have the knowledge to choose the service they want.'

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