An advertising arbiter ruled against Charter's claims of 'fastest overall speeds' for its Spectrum Mobile MVNO offering, but the company said it would appeal.

April 27, 2021

4 Min Read

NEW YORK – The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs determined that evidence offered by Charter Communications, Inc. to support its claim that Spectrum Mobile delivers the "fastest overall speeds" nationwide was not a good fit. In recommending that the claim be discontinued, NAD found that Charter is not delivering an "overall fastest" (aggregated) speed to the consumer. It is only when the consumer is in certain geographic markets or connected to Spectrum WiFi (at home or via hotspot) that the consumer gains a speed advantage over competing providers. Charter will appeal NAD's recommendation.

The claim that Spectrum Mobile offers "the fastest overall speeds," which appeared in website advertisements, television, radio, as well as internet commercials, was challenged by AT&T Services, Inc.

Charter's Spectrum Mobile is a mobile virtual network operator that provides cellular services by piggybacking on Verizon's cellular network. Charter only sells its Spectrum Mobile service to new and existing customers of Spectrum's residential internet service (Spectrum Internet), which is available only in certain parts of the country. When Spectrum Mobile's customers are connected to their own Spectrum Internet's WiFi, or any of Spectrum Mobile's 500,000+ WiFi hotspots (which also cover only certain parts of the country), their mobile data consumption is offloaded to WiFi. It was undisputed that within Spectrum Mobile's WiFi footprint (i.e. areas where Spectrum Mobile customers are able to access both their cellular network and either their residential WiFi or one of Spectrum Mobile's WiFi hotspots), Spectrum Mobile has the fastest speeds when its WiFi and cellular speeds are aggregated compared to other carriers.

Both parties submitted consumer perception evidence regarding the messages reasonably conveyed by the "fastest overall speeds" claim in the challenged Spectrum Mobile commercial. However, NAD concluded that neither party's survey was sufficiently reliable.

In its own evaluation of the consumer takeaway from Charter's "fastest overall speeds" claim, NAD determined that one of the messages reasonably conveyed by the claim is that Spectrum Mobile has a speed advantage compared to competing providers across its entire network nationwide. Notably, the challenged claim, "fastest overall speeds," is followed by the claim, "coast to coast" in many iterations of the claim, including both radio commercials; Spectrum's website displays a large map alongside the "fastest overall speeds" claim; and Charter advertises Spectrum Mobile as a nationwide network.

To support its "fastest overall speeds" claim, Charter submitted evidence from Nielsen showing that it had the fastest combined WiFi and cellular speeds within its footprint. However, NAD concluded that such evidence – which showed that Spectrum Mobile customers get faster speeds in the much narrower Spectrum service area – is not a good fit for the broad "fastest overall speeds" claim, particularly when viewing Spectrum's claims in contexts which include "coast to coast" claims and otherwise emphasize that Spectrum Mobile is available nationwide.

Additionally, NAD noted that Charter's Ookla data shows that Spectrum Mobile's claimed fastest speed is never available nationwide on its wireless network, but rather only in certain wireless markets or when consumers are connected to Spectrum's WiFi (at home or via a Spectrum Mobile hotspot). NAD noted that even prior to the global pandemic, WiFi accounted for the majority of all mobile data consumption and faster speeds certainly provide an advantage to these consumers. However, Spectrum Mobile subscribers will never receive the fastest speeds when connected to its cellular network.

NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue its claim that Spectrum Mobile delivers the "fastest overall speeds" nationwide. To the extent that Charter wishes to promote the speed advantage of its Spectrum Mobile service, NAD recommended that the claim communicate to consumers the circumstances under which consumers will experience the claimed speed advantage and avoid conveying a misleading message that consumers will obtain the fastest speeds with respect to nationwide cellular service.

In its advertiser statement, Charter stated that it will appeal NAD's decision and expressed its belief that "NAD's decision is based on an outdated view of mobile communications" because "mobile communications are an integrated experience involving both WiFi and cellular communications, with the vast majority of 'mobile communications' occurring over WiFi." Such appeals of NAD decisions are made to BBB National Programs' National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate-level truth-in-advertising body of BBB National Programs.

BBB National Programs

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