NEW YORK, Feb. 9, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate advertising law body of BBB National Programs, has recommended that AT&T Services, Inc. modify or discontinue certain advertising claims for its fiber internet service. The panel upheld the advertiser’s appeal as to other claims.
National Advertising Review Board (NARB)
The advertising at issue had been challenged by Charter Communications, Inc. (Spectrum) before BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (NAD). Following NAD’s decision (Case No. 6981), recommending to AT&T that it discontinue or modify certain challenged comparative performance, pricing, and bandwidth claims, the advertiser appealed to NARB.
At issue in the appeal were advertising claims based on the fact that AT&T’s fastest tier of fiber-based ISP service (Internet 1000) has up to 20 times faster upload speeds than that of the challenger’s equivalent cable-based tier. The challenged claims appeared in five video commercials, three radio ads, one outdoor ad, one online display ad, and six AT&T webpage advertisements.
“20x Faster Upload Speeds Than Cable” Product Line Claims
The NARB panel agreed with NAD that the claim “up to 20x faster upload speed” was a misleading line claim in the challenged advertising, as well as a misleading claim in the challenged Quick Internet and Small Business Owner radio commercials, because the disclosures were not sufficiently clear and prominent to limit the claim to AT&T’s fastest fiber service.
Therefore, the NARB panel recommended that AT&T discontinue the Special Lady, Super Fan, Frustrated Family, and Reliability commercials or modify them to clearly and conspicuously delineate the tier of service with “up to 20x faster upload speed.”
Further, the NARB panel recommended that if AT&T chooses to include price information in ads for fiber service that does not have the claimed upload speed attribute, it should modify the ads to clarify which price tiers provide the 20 times faster upload speed and which do not.
“Half the Price of Cable” Claims
It was not disputed that AT&T’s most expensive tier of Business Fiber service (Internet 1000) is half the price of the challenger’s equivalent tier, but other tiers of AT&T service are not half the price of cable. In agreement with NAD, the NARB panel recommended that AT&T discontinue the Business Fiber and Small Business Owners commercials and the challenged price claims on the Business Fiber website and Outdoor Advertisement or modify them to limit the claim “half the price of cable” to AT&T Business Fiber’s top tier of service and the equivalent cable tier.
Superior Bandwidth Claims
The NARB panel noted that a user’s needs for download and upload speeds depends on the online activities a user engages in, and currently, according to third-party testing data in the record, downloading content from the internet accounts for 94% of the bandwidth that households use, with uploading activity accounting for 6%.
The NARB panel concluded that in the context of the challenged advertisement and web pages, AT&T’s superior bandwidth claim, which is based on a combination of upload and download speeds, is misleading.
Given the general need for greater internet download capability for most households, the NARB panel recommended that AT&T modify the superior bandwidth claims in the Business Fiber commercial and the AT&T Fiber and Internet Services webpages to avoid making a general bandwidth superiority claim or a claim that superior upload capability results in a better internet experience. The panel further recommended that the advertiser clarify when it is referencing AT&T’s upstream bandwidth capabilities to distinguish upload and download capabilities.
Superior Performance Claims
The NARB panel found that, except for claims that its service provides performance improvements regarding large data file transfer and uploads relative to cable service, AT&T provided no basis for claiming that its 20 times faster upload speed leads to noticeable improvements in a user’s internet experience for videoconferencing, surfing, streaming, and gaming relative to cable ISP.
Therefore, the NARB panel recommended that the advertiser discontinue claims that AT&T fiber provides superior performance for videoconferencing, video chatting, surfing, streaming, or gaming, including in the context of the Reliability, Quick Internet, and Small Business Owner radio commercials, the Internet Services webpage, and the Special Lady, Super Fan, and Frustrated Family video commercials.
The NARB panel noted that to the extent the Quick Internet, Small Business Owner, and Reliability radio ads reference improved performance in file uploads and transfers, it finds these data file upload claims substantiated. Regarding the tagline “upload content out to the world,” the panel finds the tagline appropriate in the context of file uploads only, but not substantiated for video chatting or gaming as referenced in the commercials.
The NARB panel agreed with NAD that nothing in the record prevents AT&T from making supported claims that AT&T Fiber provides superior performance when its faster upload speeds actually deliver a superior experience for consumers.
General Faster Internet or Better Internet Claims
In agreement with NAD, the NARB panel recommended that AT&T discontinue the claim in Special Lady, Business Fiber, and Super Fan commercials and on the Internet 1000 webpage that AT&T Fiber offers “better internet” than cable, and avoid making the implied claim that fiber technology provides faster internet service in general or is invariably superior to cable technology.
AT&T stated that it “supports NARB’s self-regulatory process and will comply with the NARB’s decision.” Further, the advertiser stated that it “appreciate[s] NARB’s acknowledgment that certain of our claims were substantiated,” . . . but “respectfully disagrees[s] with the balance of NARB’s conclusion recommending that other AT&T Fiber ads should be discontinued or modified.”
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About BBB National Programs: BBB National Programs is where businesses turn to enhance consumer trust and consumers are heard. The non-profit organization creates a fairer playing field for businesses and a better experience for consumers through the development and delivery of effective third-party accountability and dispute resolution programs. Embracing its role as an independent organization since the restructuring of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in June 2019, BBB National Programs today oversees more than a dozen leading national industry self-regulation programs, and continues to evolve its work and grow its impact by providing business guidance and fostering best practices in arenas such as advertising, child-directed marketing, and privacy. To learn more, visit bbbprograms.org.
About the National Advertising Review Board (NARB): The National Advertising Review Board (NARB) is the appellate body for BBB National Programs’ advertising self-regulatory programs. NARB’s panel members include 85 distinguished volunteer professionals from the national advertising industry, agencies, and public members, such as academics and former members of the public sector. NARB serves as a layer of independent industry peer review that helps engender trust and compliance in NAD, CARU, and DSSRC matters.
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