Virgin's broadband claims "misleading"

April 10, 2009 // 11:36 a.m.

Tags: #adsl #advertising-standards-authority #asa #broadband #fibre-optic #sky #sky-broadband #speed #virgin #virgin-broadband #virgin-media

Virgin Media has earned itself the Advertising Standards Authority's ire over its broadband speed claims, after a rival ISP made a complaint.

As reported by vnunet.com, the company has been rapped on the knuckles after the ASA found its adverts comparing the speed of ADSL broadband over copper 'phone lines with its own fibre optic based broadband offering.

In an advert which made it to print magazines and newspapers across the country, Virgin Media claimed that a mere “three out of ten homes in the UK can get 8Mbit/s or more over BT phone lines.” The advert went on to claim that “ten out of ten homes with our fibre optic broadband can get 20Mbit/s.

On the face of it, Virgin Media's claim has some merit: by its nature, the speed offered by ADSL is variable based on the quality of the wiring and the distance from the exchange – along with the type of ADSL being used. By contrast, Virgin Media's connection speed is fixed at the exchange – no matter the distance.

However, rival Sky – which offers its own TV, 'phone, and broadband via ADSL package – took umbrage at the advert, describing the comparison as “misleading and unfair” in a complaint to the ASA. In the complaint, Sky pointed out that the bandwidth capacity in Virgin Media's network was not sufficient “to provide all customers with 20Mbit/s at the same time” and pointed out that at times of congestion users' connections would be slower than the speed claimed in the advert.

In defence, Virgin Media claimed that the fine print on the advert – which pointed out that “actual speeds may vary” – was enough to warn customers that 20Mb/s was a best-case speed, not a guarantee. The ASA, however, disagreed – and pointed out that the fine print “contradicted rather than qualified the strong implication [...] that all customers on Virgin's cable broadband 20Mbit/s package would experience that speed.

Accordingly, the ASA upheld Sky's complaint due to a lack of data “demonstrating that all Virgin's 20Mbit/s cable broadband customers could achieve the headline speed in the home” and has told Virgin Media not to repeat the claim again.

Do you think that Virgin Media's central point – that its fibre optic broadband offering will give a higher speed than an ADSL equivalent – holds merit, or was the company over-egging the pudding when making the comparison? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

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