NEW YORK, Nov. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs determined that the AT&T Services, Inc. claim to have a "faster internet experience" than cable with respect to large file uploads was supported in the context in which it was presented, as well as the claim that AT&T Internet delivers "consistent speed, even at peak times." However, NAD recommended that AT&T discontinue or modify other challenged comparative performance, pricing, and bandwidth claims.
The claims, which appeared on television, radio, the advertiser's webpage, and on an outdoor ad, were challenged by Charter Communications, Inc.
"Up to 20x Faster Upload Speed" Claims It was not disputed that AT&T's fastest tier of service (Internet 1000) has up to 20 times faster upload speeds than that of the challenger's equivalent tier. However, NAD determined that the comparison between "AT&T Fiber" and "cable" in the challenged advertising is a line claim because it pits AT&T Fiber – as a general brand, rather than AT&T Fiber Internet 1000 tier variety – against cable. Further, NAD found that AT&T's disclosure does not effectively limit the applicability of the claim and a reasonable consumer would thus take away the unsupported message that AT&T Fiber offers 20 times faster upload speeds than cable at any tier.
NAD also noted that the challenged ads conflate performance claims for higher tiers of service with introductory tier price offers.
Therefore, NAD recommended that AT&T discontinue the Special Lady, Super Fan, Frustrated Family, and Reliability commercials or modify the advertising to delineate the tier of service with "up to 20x faster upload speed," and, if stating a price offer, clearly and conspicuously disclose to which tier of service the offer applies.
"Half the Price of Cable" Claims It was not disputed that Internet 1000, AT&T's most expensive tier of Business Fiber service, is half the price of the challenger's equivalent tier. NAD concluded, however, that a reasonable consumer would take away the unsupported message that AT&T Business Fiber costs half the price of cable at any tier of service. Further, NAD found that in one challenged advertisement AT&T's disclosure is inadequate because it does not explain the basis of the "half the price" claim, and that other advertisements have no disclosure at all.
Therefore, NAD 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 "half the price of cable" claim to AT&T Business Fiber's top tier of service and the equivalent cable tier.
Superior Bandwidth Claims NAD determined that the benefit of superior bandwidth is relevant to consumers to the extent that it allows them to carry out their regular internet-related activities without experiencing bandwidth issues. Because downstream bandwidth plays a much larger role in most internet usage, NAD found that a downstream bandwidth-based figure—or at least a combined bandwidth figure that accounts for the relative weight of upstream and downstream usage—is a more relevant metric than a combined figure that relies heavily on favorable upstream bandwidth capabilities.
For this reason, NAD 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 general bandwidth superiority claims, or to clarify when they are referencing AT&T's upstream bandwidth capabilities to distinguish upload and download capabilities.
Upload Speed Performance Claims Without evidence in the record demonstrating that cable does not provide sufficient upload speeds to support video-conferencing, surfing, streaming, and gaming, NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue claims that Fiber provides superior performance for these activities, including in the context of the Small Business Owners radio commercial, the Internet Services webpage, the Special Lady, Super Fan, and Frustrated Family commercials, as well as claims in its Quick Internet radio commercial that AT&T delivers a "faster internet experience" for videoconferencing and gaming.
NAD noted that nothing in the record prevents AT&T from making supported claims that AT&T Fiber provides superior performance when its faster upload speeds deliver a superior experience for consumers.
Regarding the challenged advertising which highlights the benefits of AT&T Fiber's faster upload speeds for uploading large files, NAD determined that such claims were supported. NAD found that on the AT&T Fiber webpage, the "faster internet experience" claim in a self-comparative context is supported. NAD also determined that the "faster internet experience" claim was substantiated in the limited context of depicting or discussing a large file upload.
NAD cautioned the advertiser, however, that combining "faster internet experience" with depictions of, or references to, other forms of internet usage may convey broader messages about the comparative speed of AT&T Fiber and cable internet, which require support.
Tech Superiority Claims NAD was not persuaded that the record substantiates the advertiser's broad claims that fiber optic internet is superior to cable, and that AT&T Fiber offers "better internet" than cable. Therefore, NAD recommended that AT&T discontinue the claim in the Special Lady, Business Fiber, and Super Fan commercials and on the Internet 1000 webpage that AT&T Fiber offers "better internet" than cable, and to avoid making the implied claim that fiber technology is invariably superior to cable technology.
With respect to the "better internet" claim in the Big Meeting commercial, NAD found that it did not convey any unsupported comparative messages but was rather a reference to the relevance of upload speeds to the transmission of large files. NAD cautioned AT&T, however, that combining "better internet" with depictions of, or references to, other forms of internet usage besides a large file upload may convey broader messages about the comparative performance of AT&T Fiber and cable internet, which will require support.
Consistent Speed Claims Regarding the advertiser's claims that AT&T delivers "consistent speed, even at peak times," NAD found that, in context, a consumer would not take away a comparative superiority message about AT&T services against cable services but would instead perceive it as a monadic claim about the general consistency of AT&T's internet speeds.
Further, based on the evidence, NAD determined that AT&T's speed consistency claim as it appears on the Internet, High Speed Internet, and Internet 1000 webpages was substantiated.
Other Comparative Claims During the course of the proceeding, the advertiser voluntarily modified the claim on its AT&T Fiber webpage "Get more when you switch to AT&T Fiber . . . [u]nlimited internet data. . . with no data caps[,] no annual contract, [and] 99% reliability" to no longer use "switch to AT&T Fiber" language that would make a comparative claim against cable.
NAD agreed that the website as modified did not reasonably convey any unsupported messages about the comparative benefits available to AT&T customers.
In its advertiser statement, AT&T stated that it will appeal "all components of the challenged claims that NAD found were false, misleading and/or unsubstantiated." Such appeals of NAD decisions are made to the BBB National Programs' National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate-level truth-in-advertising body of BBB National Programs.
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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 Division: The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs provides independent self-regulation and dispute resolution services, guiding the truthfulness of advertising across the U.S. NAD reviews national advertising in all media and its decisions set consistent standards for advertising truth and accuracy, delivering meaningful protection to consumers and leveling the playing field for business.