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Broadband

Charter halts ads claiming its download speeds are 20x faster than AT&T's

Resolving yet another ad-related spat involving competing broadband service providers, Charter Communications has agreed to discontinue TV commercials claiming that it delivers download speeds that are 20x faster than AT&T's.

Charter's decision to halt the ads stems from a recommendation from the National Advertising Division (NAD) that Charter discontinue or modify certain comparative speed claims. NAD's recommendation was in response to a challenge from AT&T centered on Charter's "Monsters Gaming" TV commercial. By way of example, this version of a Charter "Monsters" ad posted on YouTube doesn't reference AT&T by name, but does make the claim that "Spectrum download speeds are 20x faster than the phone companies."

In its review of AT&T's challenge, NAD noted that Charter's ads carry implied claims that AT&T doesn't offer any speeds comparable to Charter's 1-Gig service, doesn't offer Internet speeds faster than 50 Mbit/s, and that AT&T Internet "is too slow for downloading for the reasonable consumer."

NAD, an ad watchdog linked to the Better Business Bureau, said it also found that "consumers will reasonably take away a message that AT&T Internet is too slow for gaming, but not the broader message that AT&T Internet is too slow for general activities requiring download speeds."

AT&T, of course, offers a variety of tiers that deliver speeds greater than 50 Mbit/s. Of recent note, AT&T has launched a pair of multi-gig speed tiers for its fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) product.

"NAD determined that the disclosures in the 'Monsters' ad do not clearly identify the basis of comparison being made in the '20X faster' claim as being limited to a comparison of Charter's Spectrum Internet Gig (1000 Mbps) against AT&T Internet 50 (50 Mbps)," NAD explained. "Therefore, NAD found that the '20X faster' claim conveys a message about AT&T's line of offerings."

Boiled down, NAD recommended that Charter drop the "20x faster" claim or modify it to "clearly and conspicuously disclose" the specific speed tiers on which the comparison is based.

In a statement to NAD, Charter said it will comply with the decision and that it is no longer running the commercial featuring the disputed claim. But Charter added that it "disagrees with NAD's recommendations in this case" and "remains a strong supporter of self-regulation and will comply with these recommendations if it makes the 20X Faster Claim again."

Broadband subscriber growth elusive in Q2

The latest advertising-related challenge enters the picture amid rising broadband competition among cable operators and telcos and during a time in which both sides are seeking new ways to grow and retain broadband subs. Charter lost 42,000 residential broadband subs in Q2. AT&T added 316,000 fiber subs in the quarter – not enough to completely offset a loss of 341,000 non-fiber/xDSL subs in the period.

While AT&T is focused on an aggressive fiber network upgrade strategy, Charter is pushing ahead with "high-split" upgrades in multiple markets that expand the amount of spectrum dedicated to the upstream, and is exploring a future upgrade to DOCSIS 4.0, a platform for hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) networks that support symmetrical multi-gig speeds, security enhancements and low-latency capabilities.

Similar disputes over advertising messaging are becoming increasingly commonplace against this competitive backdrop.

Of recent note, Charter was on the winning end of an NAD recommendation that T-Mobile halt claims that consumers can "save up to 50% vs. National FCC Broadband Rate Benchmark" with T-Mobile Home Internet, its fixed wireless access service.

Charter and T-Mobile also were linked to a separate ad dispute in which NAD determined that T-Mobile's "no data caps" claim for T-Mobile Home Internet was not misleading.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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