ASA clears Virgin Media over ADSL 'lies'

ASA clears Virgin Media over ADSL 'lies'

Complaints not upheld by advertising watchdog

Virgin Media has come under fire over ads for its broadband service which implied that many DSL providers were "lying" about the speed and quality of their services.

A national press advert entitled 'Truth, Lies and Broadband' stated: "There are lots of companies out there selling 'high speed' broadband, claiming to be the fastest and cheapest in the land.

"The truth is this. Right now, in terms of broadband, there are two types of homes in the UK. Half of us can get cable broadband. This is delivered via a fibre optic cable meaning it is officially the fastest and the best performing broadband available."

"The other half of the country can get a standard connection - also known as ADSL (which stands for something tedious). Most broadband companies, like BT, Tiscali, Sky, TalkTalk and so on, only offer this."

The text of the advert went on to explain that ADSL uses phone lines and slows down the further away a subscriber lives from the telephone exchange. " This means you might not be getting the speed you pay for," Virgin Media stated.

Five readers and TalkTalk objected that the press ad was misleading because they believed that the connection from the street cabinet into the home did not use fibre optic cable, but used copper wire. The use of a copper wire connection into the home could cause speed depreciation.

TalkTalk and Sky both objected to the claim that "the other half of the country get a standard connection. Most broadband companies, like ... Sky, TalkTalk and so on, only offer this."

This implied that Sky and TalkTalk had a UK ADSL coverage of around 50 per cent, when both companies said that about 98 per cent of the country could get an ADSL broadband connection.

Virgin Media also came under fire from members of the public, Sky and TalkTalk over poster and radio adverts which repeated the claims made in the press campaign.

Responding to this barrage of criticism Virgin Media said that the ads were intended to highlight that cable broadband was different from ADSL broadband.

The firm explained that it did not use copper wire to deliver broadband to its customers, but used aluminium or steel wire with a copper coating. The copper coating is used to shield signals from interference and not to transmit the signals.

Virgin Media went on to explain that its backbone network was a "hybrid fibre co-axial" network which used fibre-optic cables all the way to within approximately 500 metres of the customer's home.

The company claimed that from there it passes over high quality copper-coated aluminium co-axial cables to within 150 metres of the home.

The final connection to the customer is made from the street cabinet over high quality copper-coated steel co-axial cables.

Virgin Media added that, while distance had a noticeable effect on customer speeds, this was not an issue for cable broadband.

Its services are not limited by distance because distributed active signal amplifiers throughout network ensure that the necessary signal level is delivered to the customer.

The firm also argued that its ad stated clearly that Virgin Media could provide a cable service to 50 per cent of the country, and that the other 50 per cent could receive its ADSL service.

The claim that "most broadband companies, like BT, Tiscali, Sky, TalkTalk and so on, only offer this" referred to ADSL and not the coverage of each provider.

The Advertising Standards Authority accepted these arguments from the cable company and refused to uphold the complaints.

"The ASA noted Virgin's argument that the aim of the ads was to highlight the technological differences between cable broadband and ADSL broadband," the ruling stated.

"We also noted that cable broadband uses a combination of fibre-optic and co-axial cable to deliver broadband into the home. We acknowledged that Virgin's co-axial cables were made of either aluminium or steel and had a copper coating."