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Better and twisted? Most of BT's broadband customers think this stuff is fibre

copper cables

via Flickr © brewbooks (CC BY-SA 2.0)

When the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority green flagged BT’s misleading broadband advertising in late 2014, we concluded that to do so they were either smoking some pretty powerful stuff over at ASA Towers (and could we have some?) or they were as bamboozled by the technology as we thought many of the potential customers would be. According to a recent survey, it appears to have been the latter.

To recap: BT was (and still is) calling its fibre to the curb/cabinet  (FTTC) offerings ‘fibre broadband’ when they were and are nothing of the sort. They are copper services… end of story. We thought customers were bound to be confused (see - Naming and shaming: Fibre Optic Broadband is a lie BT, so change it).

It turns out that we were more right than we thought. A survey by the excellent Cable.co.uk web site has discovered that at least two thirds of the so-called ‘fibre’ users were misled by BT’s advertising and marketing, “believing incorrectly that the cable coming into their home is fibre optic, and only one in ten was correctly able to identify it as a copper telephone line!” says Cable.co.uk.

The trouble was that BT was sprinkling the ‘fibre’ Disney dust all over its marketing material on the basis that the fibre element (even the slowest old, exchange-based DSL ends up on fibre eventually) had been edged closer to the home - the fact that there was still a few yards of dirty old copper hanging off the end was just a pedantic detail.

It was an argument that clearly convinced the ASA when, in November 2014, it stunned the rest of industry (and probably BT itself) by deciding not to uphold a complaint that BT was referring to its ‘Infinity’ product as ‘fibre optic’.

The ASA thought that consumers would clearly be more interested in the service’s improved speed, performance and its cost. “We therefore considered the use of the term ‘fibre optic’ to denote a broadband connection which primarily comprised fibre optic cable whilst including non-fibre optic cable as a small proportion of the overall connection was unlikely to mislead the average consumer,” it stated. In fact those few yards of copper is the choke-point that defines the capabilities of the service.

Fast forward to the Cable.co.uk survey which found that, out of 1,000 fibre broadband customers getting service via OpenReach via various providers, two thirds (67.7%) believed the cable bringing their internet service into their home was fibre optic -  just 9.3% could correctly identify their cable as a standard telephone line. One in five respondents (21.6%) confessed to not knowing what form the cabling takes, and just 1.4% gave their answer as 'something else'.

The misdirection has continued. Just last week BT announced a new ‘standard’ broadband package offering 52 Mbit/s over FTTC and with the word ‘fibre’ sprinkled around liberally.  

Again, BT maintains that customers aren’t interested in the technical detail. According to David McDonald, director of broadband and more besides at BT, “Our research has shown that it’s what you can actually do with your broadband that matters most to consumers.”

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