The High Court has granted CityFibre permission to proceed with its judicial review of the UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) decision on how the term ‘fibre’ is used in broadband advertising. The ASA now has 35 days to prepare a counter case, and the full judicial review is expected to be heard later this summer.
The ASA decided last year to undertake a review of the way the term ‘fibre’ was used by service providers to cover broadband delivered over hybrid networks containing coaxial or telephone cables as well as optical fibre (see UK to review advertising of 'fibre' broadband services). In light of this, broadband infrastructure companies CityFibre, Hyperoptic and Gigaclear commissioned a study from market research firm Opinion Leader, demonstrating that consumers felt misled by the current use of the term ‘fibre’ in the hope that, when the ASA had completed its own research, it would be of the same mind.
The authority, however, determined that ‘fibre’ was not identified as a differentiator when choosing a broadband package; and in fact, it was usually seen as a meaningless buzzword. Once customers were educated about the meaning of the word, they did not change their purchasing behaviour; therefore, the use of the word was unlikely to mislead (see What's in a name? Fibre ads ruling could harm investment). Although, it did add that ‘ads should not state or imply a service is the most technologically advanced on the market if it is a part-fibre service.’
Speaking after the High Court granted CityFibre permission to challenge this ruling, chief executive, Greg Mesch said: ‘The High Court is seeing sense where the ASA failed to: this is the right decision for consumers and our economy. CityFibre challenged the ASA’s decision because consumers must not be misled into thinking they can get full-fibre benefits on a copper broadband network – they can’t: copper is dead.
‘It is now time to sort out these advertising rules once and for all, and for the Government and industry to get behind the nationwide broadband targets set by the Chancellor. Companies are investing billions because of the transformative connectivity full fibre brings; the Court has a one-off chance to step in and make a difference for consumers before the mis-selling of broadband becomes the next PPI-style scandal.’