On the eve of voting on a new European Electronic Communications Code tomorrow, the FTTH Council Europe urged European Union member states, national regulatory authorities and telecom ministers gathered in Brussels to eliminate false and misleading advertising around the terms "fiber," "full-fiber" and associated phrases inaccurately used to convince consumers they are buying fiber-optic infrastructure when they are not.
In an open letter to European Union telecom ministers, the fiber-advocacy group -- which consists of vendors, operators, system integrators and other companies in the fiber-to-the-home ecosystem -- the FTTH Council Europe maintained misleading fiber advertising can undermine governments' incentives around very high capacity networks and transparently empowering consumers.
During the Dec. 4 vote, National Regulatory Authorities will consider whether the legislation meets main objectives, such as promoting competition, the internal market and end-user benefits, as well as connectivity, access to and adoption of very high-capacity networks by all European citizens and businesses, FTTH Council Europe President Ronan Kelly wrote in the letter.
"We are witnessing 'fake fiber' advertising practices in several Member States using 'fiber' or 'fiber speeds' in advertisements for copper-based broadband, when the advertised product is not genuinely based on a full-fiber connection," he said, noting subscribers who believe they already have FTTH will never switch to true full-fiber and misuse of "fiber" prevents consumers from making informed choices about their broadband connection and provider.
Multiple Flags, Multiple Definitions of Fiber
EU nations fly the EU and their country's flag. Likewise, they may have their own interpretation of how providers can advertise fiber -- and that is confusing to consumers and SMBs, argues FTTH Council EU, among others. (Source: Mapixel, under Creative Commons 3.0)
When consumers know they have a choice and understand the differences between fiber and copper, they proactively select fiber, FTTH Council Europe said. Speed, lack of latency issues and symmetrical up/download rates generate higher subscriber satisfaction compared with other access technologies, the organization added. As a result, 94% of non-FTTH users would consider subscribing to FTTH if was available to them, a February 2018 study found
Some European countries strictly limit use of the word "fiber," the Council wrote. Italy, for example, mandates its use exclusively for marketing FTTH or fiber-to-the-building (FTTB). Others include France, Spain, Denmark and Portugal, the organization said.
Flying the flag
This is not the first time truth in advertising and fiber have come under scrutiny in this part of the world.
Earlier this year, wholesale provider CityFibre took Britain's advertising authority to task for its laissez faire attitude toward use -- or abuse -- of the word "fiber" in broadband advertising for services often conducted along access networks built with Gfast or hybrid technologies. (See When Is Fiber Not Fiber?)
This loose use of the term is one reason typical residential customers may not know what runs their broadband infrastructure; when asked, however, they do know they want fiber. Indeed, 24% of Britons surveyed in research conducted in summer 2018 for CityFibre believed they're using fiber-to-the-premise (FTTP) -- at a time when only 3% of United Kingdom homes had FTTP. And 86% of British broadband subscribers thought the type of cable -- fiber optic, copper or a hybrid combo of the two -- impacted their connection speed; 65% believed their infrastructure used fiber optic (when, in fact, it used copper or hybrid cabling), the research found.
Due to the results of this report, CityFibre brought the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) to court, filing for a judicial review and arguing the agency's conclusion that "fiber" is not misleading when broadband providers and vendors use the term to describe hybrid copper-fiber connections in advertising. Despite pressure from Parliament, business and government which agreed with CityFibre that the word "fiber" should be used solely for "full-fiber services" as part of the UK's Digital Strategy, after ASA reviewed the term it ruled in November that no change to its policy was necessary -- good news to incumbents like BT and Virgin, according to CityFibre.
The FTTH Council Europe's words ring true anywhere there are blurry lines in broadband advertising:
Therefore, we urge Member States, National Regulatory Authorities and BEREC to take action both individually and collectively to prevent misleading fiber advertising. This will contribute to unlocking the investment potential in fiber across Europe as well as to ensuring that consumers can make well informed choices based on genuine, transparent information.
This is relevant whether you're in Marseilles, Manchester, Monrovia, Mumbai, Medellin or Memphis. Let's see how EU ministers vote.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.